Warning: This article mentions residential school and alleged assault
A day school survivor looked at the floor when a Winnipeg judge declared Oblate priest Arthur Massé not guilty of indecently assaulting her in a girls’ bathroom nearly 50 years ago.
Victoria McIntosh, 63, showed no emotion while her husband comforted her after hearing the decision by Court of King’s Bench Judge Candace Grammond Thursday morning.
Her demeanour was in stark contrast to the confidence she displayed during a two-day trial earlier this month.
“[McIntosh] did not convince me it was [Massé],” Grammond told the small, crowded courtroom.
“I have a reasonable doubt it was the accused.”
Massé, 93, also had no reaction while he waited for everyone to leave the courtroom in the Winnipeg Law Courts.
He ducked out a side door of the downtown building later and made his way to a vehicle while refusing to answer reporters’ questions.
Similarly McIntosh, a teacher, declined to speak to reporters waiting outside for her reaction.
She was carrying an eagle feather and the tiny jacket her mother made for her to wear to school. She also wore her mother’s traditional ribbon skirt, she told APTN News before court.
The judge said McIntosh was reliable and steadfast on the stand.
“I found her to be a credible witness,” Grammond said in delivering her decision.
But multiple priests worked at the Fort Alexander residential and day schools on what is now Sagkeeng First Nation and wore the same clerical collars and robes, the judge noted.
And McIntosh, who had waived the publication ban on her name, didn’t convince her it was this priest, the judge added.
McIntosh testified the assault occurred in the girls’ bathroom sometime between April 1, 1968 and April 1, 1970 at the day school on Sagkeeng First Nation, located approximately 118 km northeast of Winnipeg.
She said Massé forced open a stall door, grabbed and lifted her up, attempted to fondle her over her clothes – and kiss her.
The judge said that was believable.
She said she found some of Massé’s testimony “disingenuous.”
Especially when he couldn’t describe the girls’ uniforms at the school where he worked for four years, didn’t know who handled students’ complaints, and wasn’t aware students needed permission to go to the bathroom.
The acquittal garnered immediate reaction from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), which represents numerous First Nations in southern Manitoba.
“I extend my prayers to Victoria McIntosh and commend you for your bravery in coming forward to seek justice,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a release.
“It is extremely difficult to confront the abuse one has experienced as a child. My prayers are with you and I admire you for your strength to share your story.”
Martina Fisher, another survivor and a liaison with SCO’s Survivors’ healing program, encouraged survivors to keep sharing their stories.
“The truth of the matter is that the church will never 100 per cent admit there are these faults that they committed,” Fisher said in the SCO release, ”because if they do, that will mean they will have the responsibility to organize healing strategies with the First Nations.”
Meanwhile, it wasn’t obvious whether Massé was wearing the clerical collar he wore to the earlier trial. He kept his jacket on and zipped up near the neck.
His superiors at the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ottawa, who paid his legal fees, have told APTN they removed Massé from service pending the judge’s decision and recommended he not wear the collar to court.
A spokesperson for the Manitoba Prosecution Service had no comment on whether it would file an appeal but did note it would take some time to review the case.