2-day trial begins for retired Manitoba priest accused of indecent assault at residential school

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 1968 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, and a black and blue jacket.

The two-day, judge-only trial is taking place in Court of King’s Bench.

An old man with white, receding hair is seen through a glass door. He has eyeglasses and is seen from a side view.
Arthur Masse is seen walking into the Law Courts building in Winnipeg on Tuesday morning. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Victoria McIntosh, the woman 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.

Older black-and-white photo of a building in a field with a few trees and a car out front.
Fort Alexander Residential School closed in 1970. (George Harris Fonds/Archives of Manitoba)

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.

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.

Masse is expected to testify on Tuesday afternoon.

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