‘I had a big voice today and it wasn’t just for me’ Trial testimony cathartic for residential school survivor; 93-year-old former priest denies 1969 indecent assault on child
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His voice hoarse with age, a long-retired Catholic priest sat in a Winnipeg courtroom Tuesday and calmly denied sexually assaulting a young girl at a Manitoba residential school more than 50 years ago.
“No, I did not,” 93-year-old Arthur Masse answered again and again as his lawyer George Green questioned him about his alleged assault of a 10-year-old girl at the Fort Alexander Residential School in Sagkeeng First Nation in 1969.
Masse, who was an administrator and teacher at the school from 1966 to 1970, is on trial charged with one count of indecent assault.
The trial before King’s Bench Justice Candace Grammond heard testimony from just two witnesses: Masse and Victoria McIntosh, the now-63-year-old woman accusing him of assaulting her.
McIntosh testified she lived at the residential school from 1965 to 1970 and, in her final year, was attending the newly built day school. It was there, she alleged, that Masse assaulted her in the girl’s washroom.
McIntosh testified Masse was “always” visiting the washroom, but she and other students never knew why.
“We started talking: ‘Why is he always in there?’” McIntosh said. “I just thought, you don’t question authority, because if you did that you were punished.”
McIntosh said she had just walked into the washroom “and felt like there was someone else (in one of the stalls).”
“I was ready to sit down (in a stall) and the door opened and (Masse) walked in,’ she said.
Masse picked McIntosh up, pinned her against the wall, fondled her over her clothes and roughly kissed her, she said.
“I was scared and nauseated all at the same time,” she said. “I slipped away from him and I ran away from there.”
As she ran from the washroom, Masse said: “Don’t say anything,” McIntosh testified.
McIntosh said she knew Masse as a “boss” at the school. Masse testified he was an administrator from 1966 to 1969, and in his final year was a teacher at the day school.
McIntosh said she found Masse “kind of creepy.”
“I thought at first he would be nice, but then I found there was something wrong and my intuition was to stay away.”
“I just thought, you don’t question authority, because if you did that you were punished.”–Victoria McIntosh
McIntosh didn’t file a complaint with police until 2015. Under cross-examination she testified she made no mention of the incident in a 2013 statement she provided in support of a residential school financial settlement claim.
Green suggested McIntosh’s memory had faded and she confused Masse with another staff member at the school.
“As an Indigenous child, you had a disinclination to looking at white people in the face,” Green said.
“You weren’t allowed to,” McIntosh said, while maintaining it was Masse who assaulted her.
Masse testified he had no memory of McIntosh and would have no reason to be in a student washroom as staff had a washroom of their own.
Masse said he was not aware of any abuse allegations during his time at the residential school.
Manitoba RCMP arrested Masse in June 2022 after a decade-long investigation into allegations of abuse at the school.
More survivors came forward with allegations of abuse after the indecent assault charge was announced at a Manitoba RCMP news conference June 17. To date, Masse has not been charged with any additional offences.
Grammond will hear closing arguments in the case Wednesday.
Outside court, McIntosh said she felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from her.
“This is the first time I’ve seen (Masse) in 50 years,” she said. “I felt like I was 10 years old again.”
McIntosh said regardless of the outcome, the important thing is she has been heard.
“It won’t make me feel any different because we were heard, it is out in the open now,” she said. “But there is a higher power and I think about those graves and some of my fellow students who didn’t get to go home… I had a big voice today and it wasn’t just for me.”
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.