Indigenous woman says she feels heard as accused priest has first court appearance

By The Canadian Press

A First Nations woman says she is disappointed a 92-year-old priest accused of assaulting her when she was a student at a former residential school did not attend his first court appearance.

“What a coward,” said Victoria McIntosh, 63, outside a legion hall where court was held in Powerview-Pine Falls, north of Winnipeg, on Wednesday.

“I don’t care how old you are. You could have made it here if you wanted to.”

BACKGROUND: Manitoba RCMP charge 92-year-old priest in residential school case

Arthur Masse faces one count of indecent assault from when the woman was 10 and attended the Fort Alexander Residential School in Manitoba.

His lawyer appeared in court on his behalf, which is typical for a first appearance, and the Crown said the priest’s age was a factor.

A next court date was set for Aug. 17.

McIntosh said she had hoped Masse would be there so she could face him for the first time in more than 50 years.

The Canadian Press doesn’t typically name complainants in such cases, but McIntosh said she wants to speak publicly and no publication ban was ordered.

In court, she held onto a sweater she wore as a child and sat beside her young grandson. She said that when she started school for the first time, a nun took her clothing and called her a savage.

McIntosh said speaking out about her experience at the school was one of the most difficult things she’s done, but she feels like she’s finally been heard.

Before the court appearance, McIntosh stood outside with several other people, while there was drumming, singing and smudging.

McIntosh said there is no time limit for her to grieve the loss of her childhood.

“I carried this for a long time,” she said. “I was a 10-year-old child.”

RCMP have said the alleged offence took place between 1968 and 1970 when Masse was employed at the school.

The school opened in 1905 in the community of Fort Alexander, which later became Sagkeeng First Nation. It closed in 1970.

RCMP said they were notified of allegations of sexual abuse at the residential school in 2010.

Throughout the investigation, officers interacted with more than 700 people across North America and obtained 75 victim and witness statements. More than 80 investigators were involved.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2022.

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