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John de Ruiter.Supplied

Some supporters of John de Ruiter smiled – and others wept with relief or joy – as the messianic Alberta spiritual leader was granted bail nearly a week after he was charged with four counts of sexual assault.

Mr. de Ruiter appeared by video Friday at the Edmonton courthouse from the city’s remand centre. He wore a bright orange institutional jumpsuit, his hair and close beard stark white. Details of the bail hearing, which lasted nearly four hours, cannot be published because of a court-ordered publication ban.

The 63-year-old was ordered released on a number of conditions, including a $30,000 cash deposit. Judge Randal Brandt further ruled that Mr. de Ruiter must report to a bail supervisor and barred him from any contact with the four complainants or their immediate family members, either directly or indirectly, including through any followers or adherents.

Mr. de Ruiter is also barred from being alone with any women other than his wife, Leigh Ann; his daughter; immediate family; and another woman who lives in his home, Katrina Von Sass, except in the presence of a responsible adult who is not his wife. (Ms. Von Sass, a former Olympic volleyball player, and her sister were previously romantically involved with the spiritual leader. After a split, the women launched a high-profile civil case against him.)

On Friday, dozens of Mr. de Ruiter’s followers and family members packed into the courtroom for the hearing. Some stood crammed at the back, while others perched on the edges of overflowing court benches, listening intently to the submissions of the Crown and defence. Mr. de Ruiter remained impassive throughout proceedings and did not speak.

Mr. de Ruiter is the centre of a tight-knit community known as the College of Integrated Philosophy, or Oasis group. He leads his followers with intense staring sessions, talk of enlightenment and a message of “core-splitting honesty,” and is known to followers as “the living embodiment of truth.”

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Mr. de Ruiter was arrested by Edmonton Police Service officers on Jan. 21 and charged with four counts of sexual assault against women police say were among his community of followers. The charges date to between 2017 and 2020.

In a press release after his arrest, Edmonton police said 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 have also said there may be additional complainants, and are urging anyone who believes they may have been victimized by Mr. de Ruiter to contact investigators. His case will return to court on Feb. 24.

Speaking to the media outside court, defence lawyer Dino Bottos said he was pleased with the judge’s decision on bail, and that there will be months or years of work before the case goes to trial.

Mr. Bottos said the allegations are unique in that the women were consenting to sexual activity with Mr. de Ruiter, but “have now claimed afterward, years afterward, that their consent was really nullified and not valid, because they were somehow placed under his spell, or that he was somehow deceiving them into believing that they should sleep with him in order to find a higher state of consciousness.”

“Those allegations will be hotly contested by my client and, as well, a good number of witnesses who know the other side of the story.”

Crown prosecutor Jennifer Danker had opposed Mr. de Ruiter’s release on bail. She declined to comment on the case or the bail decision.

Mr. de Ruiter’s personal assets have been estimated in previous court documents to be in the millions, and title documents show the group’s lavish west Edmonton meeting place, the Oasis Centre, was sold to the Aga Khan Foundation in October, 2021, for $6.7-million. Police say he has recently been holding meetings at an office building in St. Albert and spiritual retreats in rural Alberta.

Asked how his client was feeling after the hearing, Mr. Bottos said he is just getting to know Mr. de Ruiter but described him as “always very peaceful in his own mind.”

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