WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Dozens of members from Sagkeeng First Nation, including residential school survivors, gathered around a sacred fire outside a Powerview, Man., courthouse Wednesday morning, hoping to see the retired priest charged with assaulting a 10-year-old girl from their community.
But he didn’t show.
Retired Father Arthur Masse, 92, faces one charge of indecent assault in connection to the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl who was a student at the Fort Alexander residential school where he worked.
Victoria McIntosh, 63, says she’s the girl at the centre of the decades-long RCMP investigation that led to his arrest.
“What a coward. I don’t care how old you are. You could have made it here if you wanted to,” McIntosh said.
The priest’s lawyer appeared in court virtually on his behalf, which is common for a first appearance. No plea was submitted.
McIntosh first disclosed the abuse, which she said occurred between 1968 and 1970, to the police in 2010, and a formal criminal investigation began a year later.
RCMP initially released details about the investigation at the end of July 2021. More than 80 officers worked on the case, which involved contacting more than 700 people from across North America.
Masse was arrested in June at his home in Winnipeg. McIntosh plans to attend his next court date on Aug. 17.
Community requests sentencing circle
Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson spoke to the Crown on behalf of the community and requested that the courts work with them to have a sentencing circle for Masse, which would be contingent on him pleading guilty.
“We’ve done it in the past, you know, we’ve had our leadership and our family members that were there as part of the circle. They’ll talk, and they’ll speak, and they’ll share. And then, you know, whatever the family wants as an outcome is what we’ll ask the courts to agree to,” Henderson said.
A sentencing circle is a community-directed restorative justice process conducted in partnership with the justice system, and it’s based on the belief that a crime is an offence against an entire community, not just a victim.
During the process, participants work together to find understanding of the event and identify steps that would lead to healing for all parties involved.
Marilyn Courchene, who attended day school at Fort Alexander while Masse worked there, says she would like to participate in the process if it happens.
“We want to lead this and end this with forgiveness, for both parties involved, victim and offender,” Courchene said.
Sentencing circle would offer closure
In residential school, McIntosh and her classmates were not allowed to speak their language or participate in their cultural practices, like ceremonies.
The sentencing circle would be an opportunity for her to reconnect to her child self through traditional Anishinaabe practices.
“[It would help] tremendously … going back and getting to know myself, and who I am as an Anishinaabe ikwe [woman],” McIntosh said
“We won’t bring him into the circle with shame, or guilt … but to own what he’s done. And maybe his [own] healing will begin.”
She hasn’t forgiven Masse. She says she wants to see him face-to-face, and hear from him first.
Coming together in a sentencing circle, with support from the community, would offer everyone closure — and a new beginning, McIntosh believes.
It reminds her of how her grandmother taught her that the word Anishinaabe means ‘the people.’
“Let’s begin again in a healthy way, for all people. Everybody included.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for 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.