Warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.
A Langley woman has filed a lawsuit against her former Coquitlam church and pastor claiming she was subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual grooming and abuse and exploitation.
A.B. names Barry Buzza, Coquitlam’s Northside Foursquare Church and Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada as defendants in the action filed in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster Oct. 18.
A.B.’s notice of civil claim said Buzza was Northside’s pastor for 40 years and served as Foursquare’s national president from 2007 to 2012.
She said Buzza was viewed by congregants as “a divinely gifted person.”
She also alleged he engaged in patterned behaviour where he would befriend, mentor, financially support and ‘father’ vulnerable women.
“In the plaintiff’s circumstance — and perhaps in others — Buzza exploited that trust and loyalty by engaging in non-consensual sexual contact, the claim said.
The court documents, filed by lawyer Sandra Kovacs, state the church should be held liable for concealing the truth of the grooming and sexual exploitation to avoid a scandal.
A.B. said she and her then-husband had gone to Buzza for marriage counselling in 2005 due to domestic violence by her then-spouse. The next year, Buzza directed the man move out.
In 2007, he arranged for A.B. and her two children to move into his daughter’s home. She said she saw him as a father figure.
She claims he invited her to join him and his wife on a trip to Israel in 2007. She alleged on the flight back, Buzza made sexual advances.
“She questioned what she had done to invite sexual contact from her father figure,” the claim said. “The plaintiff immediately felt fear, confusion, shame and self blame. As such, she remained silent.”
Shortly after, she alleged, he grabbed her at his daughter’s home and began kissing her.
In July 2007, she bought a condo and Buzza helped her move in. She claimed within days of the move, Buzza arrived, “undressed in front of her and implicitly expected sexual relations.”
She said she submitted but claimed she did not have the capacity to consent given his “spiritual and emotional authority over her.”
For almost two years, the claim said, Buzza would arrive several times a week for sex. He would leave money in a bowl, funds she began to rely on to make ends meet, “further fuelling her shame and self-blame.”
On Feb. 22, 2008, Buzza’s birthday, she attempted suicide. At Eagle Ridge Hospital, she did not disclose the alleged sexual exploitation.
The claim said Buzza’s wife or daughter warned a social worker he was not to visit A.B.
Court documents state Buzza visited the hospital the day after the attempt; he allegedly coached her to lie to the doctors and say she had taken pills to sleep. He warned her the hospital would keep her against her will and she wouldn’t be able to see her children, the claim said.
During a psychiatric assessment, she followed Buzza’s directions and was discharged.
It was in January 2009 that A.B. met her now-husband. They were married in October 2009 with Buzza officiating.
By 2011, A.B.’s daughter was diagnosed with a serious medical condition and A.B. had to stop working to care for her. Her new husband was also struggling in his career. Buzza offered her a job at the church.
“The plaintiff’s family was now economically dependant on Buzza’s benevolence,” the claim said.
In late 2012 or 2013, Buzza told A.B. he had liver cancer. She alleged he began manipulating her and sexual advances began.
According to the court documents, he organized evangelical missions to India and Ethiopia in 2013 and 2014, requiring her to go as a church employee. She alleged further sexual assaults on these trips.
In late 2014, A.B. told her husband about the situation and he confronted Buzza.
“Buzza manipulated the plaintiff’s husband, telling him that as a Christian it was his obligation to forgive him his trespasses,” the claim said.
Soon, the claim said, Buzza began to make life hard for her, at times embarrassing her from the pulpit in sermons.
In December 2016, A.B. took a job with another church. It was during mandatory online clergy abuse awareness training in 2020 that she recognized what had happened to her.
In January 2022, she wrote to Foursquare’s board of directors and reported the alleged sexual exploitation. She requested an independent investigation.
Soon, she met with Foursquare president Steve Falkiner. He reportedly said Buzza had confessed.
A week later, the claim said, Falkiner told A.B. neither Northside nor Foursquare Canada would commence an investigation, and could not say when or what the congregation would be told of the situation.
According to the court documents, there was a secret, members-only meeting at Northside with Buzza allowed to speak freely. The claim said he had been accused of pastoral abuse but characterized the situation as a consensual extramarital affair.
“Falkiner publicly praised Buzza for the courage of his ‘confession’ and told the congregation that he forgives Buzza, and so does Jesus,” the claim said.
Finally, A.B. sent a letter to Northside, again requesting an investigation and requesting the situation be cast not as an affair but as pastoral abuse.
A.B. alleges post-traumatic stress disorder, spiritual trauma, depression, thoughts of self-harm, anxiety, inability to enjoy sex, lack of trust, distorted thinking, low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
She claims the church was negligent in protecting her from Buzza. She is seeking aggravated, punitive and special damages.
Northside senior pastor Joel Conti told Glacier Media that the national church handles “all legal issues and concerns related to local churches.”
Falkiner said he learned of the suit on Oct. 18
“Since the matter has been brought before the courts it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time,” he said.
Buzza has not responded to a request for comment.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.