Retired priest charged with sexual assault at Manitoba residential school pleads not guilty

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

A retired priest accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl at a residential school in Manitoba more than 50 years ago has pleaded not guilty.

Arthur Masse, now 92, was out of court in Powerview, Man., on Wednesday, but entered his plea through his attorney. His case will be presented in a Court of Queen’s Bench lawsuit in Winnipeg, but a trial date has not yet been set.

Masse was arrested in June after a 10-year investigation and is now charged with indecent assault.

RCMP says the victim was a student at Fort Alexander residential school in eastern Manitoba’s Sagkeeng First Nation, where Masse worked.

Police have not named the victim, but Victoria McIntosh, 63, of Sagkeeng First Nation, says she was the child at the center of the case.

A woman in sunglasses, a purple shirt and a white and black scarf holds a bundle of sage in front of a brick building.
Victoria McIntosh, who says she was attacked by Masse more than 50 years ago, will appear in court in Powerview, Male on Wednesday. She said she will be at every court hearing and hopes to speak directly with Masse. (Radio Canada)

“I’ll be there every step of the way. I’ve made a commitment, so I’m going to keep it,” she said outside the Powerview court on Wednesday.

“Mr. Masse, come out and speak your truth too, and I’ll speak mine.”

At a court hearing in Powerview last month, Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson asked the courts to work with the community to have a sentencing circle for Masse, which would have been contingent on his pleading guilty.

A sentencing circle is a community-based restorative justice process conducted in conjunction with the justice system, based on the belief that a crime is a crime against an entire community, not just a victim.

Marilyn Courchene, who attended Fort Alexander day school when Masse worked there, stood next to McIntosh outside the Powerview courthouse on Wednesday. She said she wished the retired priest to participate in a condemnation circle.

“Our way would have been in a circle, our way would have been to listen, our way would have been to use the seven teachings,” Courchene said.

“Our way would have been open with forgiveness at the end of the day, and I think both sides would have benefited.”

It is not clear whether Masse refused to participate in a sentencing circle, or whether the choice was not presented to him.

Chief Henderson said Wednesday he expected Masse to plead innocent, and community members will continue to attend court hearings along with McIntosh.

“We will stand with Victoria and her family until this process is complete. There is a lot of community support, from outside the community,” he said.

When a date for the trial is set, Henderson says Sagkeeng’s leadership will arrange transportation so that people who want to attend the trial don’t have to worry about reaching Winnipeg.

“We have to make sure that justice is done to our people.”

Masse still has a hearing date for September 14, but it is expected to be of an administrative nature.

Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or the latest reports.

A nationwide Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to support former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

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