A judge has acquitted a now-retired priest of forcing himself on a residential school student more than 50 years ago, saying she believes an assault happened but could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt who did it.
Victoria McIntosh, who had about a dozen supporters with her in Winnipeg court, grimaced and had tears in her eyes Thursday as Court of King's Bench Justice Candace Grammond found Arthur Masse, 93, not guilty.
Earlier, as Grammond was reading her analysis and reasons for the verdict, McIntosh clutched a sweater a family member made for her and stared at the floor. Masse looked straight ahead.
McIntosh testified she was assaulted by Masse in a bathroom of the Fort Alexander Residential School north of Winnipeg sometime between 1968 and 1970.
McIntosh and Masse were the only witnesses to testify during the two-day judge-alone trial earlier this month.
Masse's lawyer argued that given the nature of the allegations, the passage of time and inconsistencies in McIntosh's testimony, the court cannot deem her a reliable witness.
GRAPHIC WARNING: The following details may disturb some readers.
McIntosh told the court she was in the bathroom at the school when Masse entered. She said Masseheld her against a wall using his forearm while he used his other hand to fondle her above her clothing. Before she was able to get away, Masse kissed her quickly and roughly on her face, McIntosh testified.
The woman said the assault left her scared and nauseated.
McIntosh first reported the assault to police in 2015, two years after she said a meeting about a residential school settlement claim triggered memories. She told the court that she tried to forget Masse's name but always knew what happened to her.
Masse testified that he did not assault McIntosh and had no recollection of interacting with her when she was a student.
His lawyers argued McIntosh was inconsistent with her testimony. The Crown said the retired priest's memory was "selective" and that he deflected his responsibilities during the time in question.
The school opened in 1905 in the community of Fort Alexander, which later became Sagkeeng First Nation. It closed in 1970.
RCMP said they were notified of allegations of sexual abuse at the school in 2010. Masse was charged last year.
McIntosh said speaking out about her experience at the school has been one of the most difficult things she's done, but feels like she's finally been heard.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.