Support line calls jump after assault charge

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Calls to a 24-7 crisis support line for residential school survivors have jumped since Manitoba RCMP announced an indecent assault charge against a retired Catholic priest.

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Calls to a 24-7 crisis support line for residential school survivors have jumped since Manitoba RCMP announced an indecent assault charge against a retired Catholic priest.

Arthur Masse, 92, is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl at the Fort Alexander Residential School in Sagkeeng First Nation between 1968 and 1970.

Angela White, executive director of the North Vancouver-based Indian Residential School Survivors Society, said calls to its crisis line went up by about 25 to 30 per cent after the RCMP’s June 17 news conference.

Archives of the Missionary Oblate Sisters The Fort Alexander Indian Residential School was built on land on the Fort Alexander Reserve (now the Sagkeeng First Nation) in southeastern Manitoba in 1905.

“I suspect it will continue to do so as that (case) moves forward,” she said Thursday.

White said there is a mixture of reactions among survivors when someone is charged with an offence at a residential school.

“Some of the responses will be almost like, ‘It’s about time,’” she said.

SUPPLIED Angela White, executive director of the North Vancouver-based Indian Residential School Survivors Society, said calls to its crisis line increased after Manitoba RCMP charged a former residential school priest with indecent assault.

For some, it’s like a “dam opening up,” as their own trauma comes back to them.

White is encouraging loved ones of survivors to visit them and see how they are doing.

“We’ve all become so good at wearing these masks of, ‘I’m OK,’” she said. “Check in on them and make sure that they are doing good.”

Certain news stories, incidents or events tend to result in more survivors seeking help from the crisis line than usual.

White said the hotline received almost 700 calls a day, after the suspected unmarked graves of 215 children were identified at the former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia in May 2021.

Another increase is possible when Pope Francis visits Alberta, Quebec and Iqaluit in July.

He will visit the former Ermineskin residential school in Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, with survivors, according to an itinerary released Thursday.

When survivors call the hotline from across Canada and the U.S., said White, they are looking to speak to someone who empathizes with them and understands where their trauma comes from.

“A lot of it is talking about their trauma in a safe space without traumatizing their own family members, and sharing without the fear of judgment,” she said.

The crisis line is available at 1-800-721-0066.

The residential schools resolution health support program has a 24-7 crisis line for survivors and their relatives at 1-866-925-4419.

Masse, meanwhile, was released with conditions after being arrested at his Winnipeg home. He is scheduled to appear in court in Powerview on July 20.

A distant relative, who lives in central Manitoba, told the Free Press he has met Masse a couple of times, but hasn’t seen him in about 15 to 20 years.

The man, who declined to give his name, said Masse previously lived in Ste. Rose du Lac, about 250 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

“He used to be a priest here. He was in the missions in Ste. Rose,” he said. “We were never close to him at all.”

The man said he wasn’t aware Masse has been charged with indecent assault.

“I’m not very impressed,” he said, after being told of the allegations. “It doesn’t make me feel good.”

Born in Ferland, Sask., in September 1929, Masse worked at the Pine Creek, Fort Alexander and Brandon residential schools in Manitoba in the 1960s and 1970s.

He spent years at the Fort Frances Residential School in northwestern Ontario.

Masse worked as a missionary in Fort Frances until 1981, according to an online Société historique de Saint-Boniface archive.

After returning to Manitoba, he was a priest at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Aboriginal Church from about 1992 to 1996, said a staff member, who checked the church’s records.

The church was located at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Home Street in the West End at the time. It has since moved to the North End.

Masse was charged following a decade-long RCMP investigation into allegations of abuse at the Fort Alexander school.

The RCMP said more people have come forward with allegations since the indecent assault charge was announced. No additional charges have been laid.

The Manitoba Métis Federation is carrying out its own investigation into Masse, who spent time in the Métis villages of Duck Bay and Camperville.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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