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Canadian priest arrested for sexual assault in 1960s at First Nations residential school | Canada

Canadian police say they arrested a 92-year-old retired priest for a sexual assault more than 50 years ago at one of Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous children.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Paul Manaigre said Friday that police arrested retired father Arthur Masse for the assault. Manaigre said the victim was 10 at the time and it happened between 1968 and 1970 at the Ford Alexander residential school in Manitoba.

Manaigre said there is no time limit for reporting a sexual assault. Masse was released on conditions and is due in court next month.

Canada’s residential schools

Over the course of 100 years, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were given new names, forcibly converted to Christianity and prohibited from speaking their native languages. Thousands died of disease, neglect and suicide; many were never returned to their families.

The last residential school closed in 1996.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada, which is today the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

In 2015, a historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission which concluded that the residential school system amounted to a policy of cultural genocide.

Survivor testimony made it clear that sexual, emotional and physical abuse were rife at the schools. And the trauma suffered by students was often passed down to younger generations – a reality magnified by systematic inequities that persist across the country.

Dozens of First Nations do not have access to drinking water, and racism against Indigenous people is rampant within the healthcare system. Indigenous people are overrepresented in federal prisons and Indigenous women are killed at a rate far higher than other groups.

The commissioners identified 20 unmarked gravesites at former residential schools, but they also warned that more unidentified gravesites were yet to be found across the country.

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Residential schools in Canada

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Residential schools in Canada

In 100 years, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were given new names, forcibly converted to Christianity, and forbidden to speak their native language. Thousands of people died of disease, neglect and suicide; many were never returned to their families.

The last boarding school closed in 1996.

Almost three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with the rest being run by Presbyterians, Anglicans and the United Church of Canada, which is now the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

In 2015, a landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the residential school system amounted to a policy of cultural genocide.

Testimonies from survivors made it clear that sexual, emotional and physical abuse was rampant in the schools. And the trauma suffered by students has often been passed on to younger generations – a reality amplified by the systematic inequalities that persist across the country.

Dozens of First Nations lack access to safe drinking water and racism against Indigenous peoples is endemic within the health care system. Indigenous people are overrepresented in federal prisons and Indigenous women are killed at a much higher rate than other groups.

Commissioners identified 20 unmarked burial sites in former residential schools, but also warned that other unmarked burial sites had yet to be found across the country.

Photo: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan/PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF SASKATCHE

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From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children had to attend publicly funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 people are believed to have died.

The Canadian government apologized to Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in schools was endemic. Many students remember being beaten for speaking their language. They have also lost contact with their parents and their customs.

Pope Francis is due to visit Canada at the end of next month to apologize to indigenous groups for the Catholic Church’s role in schools.

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