A well-known Edmonton-based spiritual leader has been charged with four counts of sexual assault.
Johannes de Ruiter, known as John de Ruiter, was arrested and charged Saturday by Edmonton police.
De Ruiter is the leader of a group known as the College of Integrated Philosophy, or the Oasis Group, which has been operating in Edmonton for decades.
Police allege de Ruiter, 63, assaulted four people in separate incidents between 2017 and 2020.
“It was reported that the accused informed certain female group members that he was directed by a spirit to engage in sexual activity with them, and that engaging in sexual activity with him will provide them an opportunity to achieve a state of higher being or spiritual enlightenment,” police said in a news release Monday.
Investigators say they believe there may be additional complainants and are asking others to come forward.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson said de Ruiter intends to challenge the allegations.
“Mr. de Ruiter will be represented by legal counsel and intends to vigorously contest these charges in a court of law. This situation is deeply impactful for those who know Mr. de Ruiter,” Zaba Walker said in an email.
According to police, de Ruiter’s group operated out of the Oasis Buildng at 109th Avenue and 177th Street from 2007 to 2021.
Police said de Ruiter currently holds meetings at an office building on St. Albert Trail in St. Albert, and that he hosts spiritual retreats at a campground near Smith, Alta., 200 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
De Ruiter’s activities are well-known to Stephen Kent, a University of Alberta professor emeritus who specialized in cults and alternative religions.
“De Ruiter claims to be the living embodiment of truth, he claims to have received messages from Jesus, he claims to get spiritual insight that directs and justifies his behaviours,” Kent said Monday.
In 2002, a CBC News documentary delved into de Ruiter’s past and his growing global following. The story reported that de Ruiter got his start in a Lutheran church before breaking off to start preaching on his own. Eventually he gave up his job as a shoemaker to focus on his following.
In the documentary, his ex-wife spoke to CBC about de Ruiter’s transition from following Christianity to New Age practices. De Ruiter became known for opening his meetings by staring at attendees, sometimes for up to an hour.
Some of de Ruiter’s followers were featured in the documentary, describing their faith in him.
Kent — who was also interviewed for the 2002 documentary — said it is not uncommon for male spiritual leaders to make claims to followers that having sex could help advance the follower’s own spiritual advancement.
“That power requires great care in its application. And one of the questions that may come up at trial is whether he abused that power, whether he abused the trust that was placed in him,” Kent said.
Mary Jane James, CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, echoed Kent’s concern about imbalances of power.
“Any time you have a person in power, exerting that power over someone who does not have any power or equal power — then the issue of sexual assault definitely comes into play,” she said.
James said that in 83 to 85 per cent of sexual abuse cases, the victim knows, loves or believes in their abuser.