WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A retired priest accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl at a Manitoba residential school more than 50 years ago has pleaded not guilty.
Arthur Masse, now 92, was not in the Powerview, Man., court on Wednesday, but entered his plea through his lawyer. His case will go to a Court of Queen’s Bench judge-only trial in Winnipeg, but a trial date has not been set.
Masse was arrested in June after a decade-long investigation and now faces one charge of indecent assault.
RCMP say the victim was a student at Fort Alexander residential school in Sagkeeng First Nation, in eastern Manitoba, where Masse worked.
Police haven’t named the victim, but 63-year-old Victoria McIntosh, of Sagkeeng First Nation, says she was the child at the centre of this case.
“I’ll be there every step of the way. I made a commitment, so I’m going to keep that,” she said outside the Powerview court on Wednesday.
“Mr. Masse, come out and speak your truth as well, and I’ll speak mine.”
At a court hearing in Powerview last month, Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson requested that the courts work with the community to have a sentencing circle for Masse, which would have been contingent on him pleading guilty.
A sentencing circle is a community-directed restorative justice process conducted in partnership with the justice system, based on the belief that a crime is an offence against an entire community, not just a victim.
Marilyn Courchene, who attended day school at Fort Alexander when Masse worked there, stood alongside McIntosh outside the Powerview courthouse on Wednesday. She said she wished the retired priest took part in a sentencing circle.
“Our way would have been in a circle, our way would have been to listen, our way would have been to use the seven teachings,” Courchene said.
“Our way would have been, at the end of the day, open with forgiveness, and I think both parties would have benefited.”
It’s not clear if Masse declined to participate in a sentencing circle, or if that choice wasn’t presented to him.
Chief Henderson said Wednesday he expected Masse to plead not guilty, and community members will continue to attend court hearings alongside McIntosh.
“We’ll be there behind Victoria and her family until this process is completed. There’s a lot of support from the community, from outside the community,” he said.
When a date is set for the trial, Henderson says Sagkeeng leadership will organize transportation so people who want to attend the trial don’t have to worry about getting to Winnipeg.
“We need to make sure that justice is done for our people.”
Masse has another court date set for Sept. 14, but it’s expected to be administrative in nature.
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.