Chief being charged is ‘very disturbing’

Update: Christopher Traverse, 41, says he is not guilty after being charged with sex crimes involving an elementary-aged child in Winnipeg

The chief of a Manitoba First Nation is facing charges of sexual abuse, sexual interference, making and possessing child pornography. Photo: APTN file

When a chief is charged with a crime it can upset a lot of people.

When the alleged victim is a child it can shake the very foundation of his community.

“It’s awful,” said Lindsay Lobb of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P).

“Whenever somebody that is in a position of trust and authority is charged in a community, it breaches that trust.”

Lobb offered the comments after learning the Winnipeg Police Service had charged Christopher Rodney Traverse, the chief of Lake St. Martin First Nation, with single counts of sexual assault, sexual interference, making child pornography and possessing child pornography.

Traverse, 41, was charged in February with offences allegedly committed in  December 2023 in Winnipeg. But the case only became public recently.

“The (alleged) victim in this matter was an elementary-aged child,” said police spokesperson Dani McKinnon in an email to APTN. “Due to the nature of this investigation (we) do not have any additional info to share and are mindful of protecting the victim’s identity.”

The charges against Traverse have not yet been tested in court and he is presumed innocent.

In a Facebook post, the chief said he is not guilty.

“Concerning the allegations made against me that were reported in the media: they are not true. I have maintained my innocence from day one, and I will continue to do so,” said a post on his Facebook page. “I willingly participated with the Winnipeg Police Service on this matter, including requesting a polygraph to prove my innocence.

“As the investigation of this matter is ongoing, I am unable to disclose details. However, I can confirm that I will continue to cooperate with the authorities and I am anxious for the truth to be exposed: that I am innocent.
Traverse added: “This is a serious matter with a devastating impact on my personal and professional reputation. I am grateful to have the support of my family, friends and colleagues as I address this issue going forward.
“I want to ensure my fellow community members of the Lake St. Martin First Nation I will overcome this obstacle and continue to work for our community,” the post said.

Traverse is free on bail.

A screen grab of some of the online information provided by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg. Photo: Submitted

“It’s very disturbing, especially coming from a chief,” said a band councillor from another First Nation in Manitoba.

The woman filed her own complaint with police about being sexually abused as a child by a non-elected leader in her community.

“The chief is supposed to be an upstanding citizen and protector,” she said Wednesday. “Not using his title to (allegedly) harm young people.

“Chiefs (in Manitoba) should step up and say something, because we councillors don’t have a say in what goes on with (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs) AMC,” she added.

AMC, which represents 63 First Nations, issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging Traverse’s arrest.

“The AMC is not aware of the particulars of these charges and does not comment on any ongoing legal matters involving Chiefs,” the statement said.

“The AMC wishes to confirm its support for the citizens of Lake St. Martin First Nation. The AMC commits to working with Council of the Lake St. Martin First Nation to ensure that appropriate supports are available for all those who are affected.”

There was no word on whether Traverse would be suspended from the AMC while his charges go through the courts.

Lake St. Martin

Lake St. Martin is located about 225 km northwest of Winnipeg.

Lobb, the operations manager for support services at C3P in Winnipeg, says the case will  impact citizens in the community.

“It’s serious when somebody we sort of hold up in regard is charged in this way,” she said. “They’re going to have a range of feelings. It will range from anger to loss of trust … to feeling scared, to feeling sad.

“And feeling a sense of grief or loss.”

Lobb said C3P makes resources available for children, parents and community members on its website.

The band councillor suggests this may be a good time to talk to children about sexual abuse.

“When I was a young child I was told ‘be quiet.’ That’s the attitude we used to get back in the day,” she said. “In this day and age, we should be telling our kids to bring it out if someone’s touching them inappropriately.

“Being silent hurts us more.”

Reduce sexual abuse

C3P is a national charity that works to reduce the sexual abuse and exploitation of children through programs and services.

It operates, Canada’s national tipline to report child sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet, and Project Arachnid, a web platform designed to detect harmful images on the clear and dark web and issue removal notices.

C3P says reports of sex crimes against children, which includes everything from sexual assault to sexploitation, are growing.

In 2022, it said major technology platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest collectively flagged more than 31.8 million reports of suspected child sexual abuse material on their sites, an increase of more than 2.6 million over the previous year.

But in Canada and the United States, there is no legal requirements for companies to block the upload of known child sexual abuse material.

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