A retired priest who worked at a Manitoba residential school appeared in court in Winnipeg on Tuesday morning to face a charge of indecent assault against a 10-year-old girl more than 50 years ago.
Arthur Masse, who worked at Fort Alexander residential school in Sagkeeng First Nation from 1966 to 1970, pleaded not guilty in September. He was arrested at his Winnipeg home in June 2022 after a decade-long investigation.
Masse, now 93, appeared in court wearing black pants, a black shirt, a clerical collar, and a black and blue jacket.
The two-day, judge-only trial is taking place in Court of King’s Bench.
Victoria McIntosh, who says Masse assaulted her around 1969, swore an oath on an eagle feather before testifying. An eagle staff from Sagkeeng First Nation was also brought into the courtroom.
A publication ban on the victim’s identity was waived at the request of McIntosh, who told court she was assaulted in a bathroom for girls at the school.
She said Masse came into her bathroom stall, lifted her up, pinned her against the wall with one arm, kissed her and tried to undress her. As McIntosh ran, Masse told her not to tell anyone what happened, she said.
Students who questioned authority were punished, so she kept quiet. McIntosh said she tried to block Masse out of her mind and was successful for most of her life until she couldn’t any longer, and gave a statement to RCMP in 2013.
By then, RCMP were already investigating complaints related to the school.
RCMP have said allegations of sexual abuse at Fort Alexander were first brought to their attention in 2010, and they launched a criminal investigation a year later.
More than 80 officers were part of the investigation, speaking to over 700 people across North America and gathering 75 witness and victim statements, RCMP have said.
Masse testified Tuesday afternoon, recounting the time he spent at three different residential schools, including Fort Alexander Residential school, where he worked as both an administrator and a teacher.
He denied the allegations he assaulted McIntosh, and said he didn’t have any memories of her at the school.
Outside court, McIntosh said Tuesday was the first time she had seen Masse in decades. She said it brought back memories of when her mother took her to the step of the Fort Alexander Residential School, and her handmade jacket was removed and thrown back at her mother.
“I felt like that little child again. At 10 years old … I held my coat that was thrown back at my mother and called ‘sauvage.’ No, we’re not,” said McIntosh.
“Acting like a savage, doing that to a child. That’s savage behaviour.”
Several people in the courtroom on Tuesday wore orange shirts, a symbol of remembrance and solidarity for children forced to attend Canada’s residential schools.
Sagkeeng’s chief, several councillors and other community members were in attendance in the courtroom.
“Today we brought it in … support for our community member who’s going through one of the biggest things in her life that she has to endure,” said Sagkeeng Coun. Dylan Courchene, who brought the eagle staff into the courtroom.
“It represents our nation, it represents our community, within the feathers our ancestors, and our community families are all within the feathers … this is the spirit of our community,” he said.
As she left the courthouse Tuesday, McIntosh said she felt good about the day’s proceedings.
“I’m very confident that it went very well, because now this is historical, and it’s not just about my case … it’s Canada’s secret that needs to come out,” she said.
“Right now I feel very light, and for a long time, I felt heavy. But to be heard … that was the main thing.”
McIntosh said her memories of her time at Fort Alexander residential school are heavy, but she has never let them weigh her down.
“I learned to work with those bad memories, and think about my ancestors, my grandfather, my mother were also survivors,” she said.
“I owe that much to my ancestors and I owe that much to my community of Sagkeeng.”