Trial of retired Winnipeg priest charged with indecent assault wraps up

Closing arguments have wrapped up in the trial of retired 93-year-old priest Arthur Masse.

Masse is charged with one count of indecent assault following an investigation into sexual abuse allegations at the Fort Alexander Residential school more than 50 years ago. He has pled not guilty, and is presumed innocent.

During his closing arguments, defence lawyer George Green told the court that when it comes to allegations of sexual assault of children, emotions run high. He said, “there are many in the court of public opinion who believe that the rules of evidence and proof beyond reasonable doubt should no longer be required. Many argue that victims will never lie or be mistaken. We submit even in cases of sexual assault, no witness enjoys a presumption of truth.”

Green argued to Justice Candace Grammond that the testimonial evidence provided by the complainant Victoria McIntosh, “falls short.” Green argued her testimony that she could remember everything she saw on the internet from a month to as long as a year ago, “I think that puts a strike against her credibility.”

Green also told the court it was important for it to consider settlement discussions Ms. McIntosh had with the federal government regarding residential school compensation in 2013. He argued she testified she always remembered, and that it was him. However during those settlement talks, “She makes no mention of Father Masse.”

Green also questioned why the Crown failed to call any corroborating witnesses. “Evidence that would have been available had it existed would be many other students could have come and testified and verified what Ms. McIntosh said, that Father Masse was always hanging out in the girls’ bathroom. If that was indeed true, that evidence could have been presented. That evidence was not presented.”

By contrast Green argued Father Masse, “was not disingenuous at all.” He told the court that “at no time was he evasive or self serving. We submit the court has no reason to doubt his credibility.”

Green told the court that if it is accepted something happened in that bathroom, we submit Father Masse did not do it. And Green concluded his arguments by saying the court, “has no reason to disbelieve his denial of never abusing any student.”

Crown lawyer Danielle Simard told the court there were several issues with the accused’s testimony. Simard said Father Masse testified he was responsible to handling children’s complaints at the school. However, she argued, “then he indicated he didn’t really receive any complaints to speak of. Knowing what we know now, it seems unlikely there was nothing to complain about.” Simard told the court Masse was being disingenuous in his testimony.

“There was some deflection there about who exactly was responsible when he was in different roles. He was never the person supervising,” Simard said.

Simard also argued Masse was unable to remember the clothing the children would wear at the school. “He appeared completely befuddled… He had nothing. No recollection as to what the typical outfits were. I think the court should have some concerns with respect to the selective memory and the deflection as to his responsibilities.”

Simard addressed the testimony of McIntosh, telling the court, “There is no suggestion this incident had left her memory.”

Although she did say Father Masse’s name “escaped her.” Simard told the court McIntosh didn’t want to think about it and “there’s nothing unusual or discrediting about that particular statement.” And she argued to suggest she lost the memory and regained it is inaccurate. Simard argued McIntosh testified she knew Masse to be an important staff member, and that “he was a boss. And she was in fact correct on that point as well.”

Simard argued that while Ms. McIntosh had probably exaggerated her ability to remember the meals she had eaten a year ago, “I don’t think that can be to the detriment of her credibility.” In fact, she argued, “Ms. McIntosh was unshaken on cross-examination. She did not exaggerate or embellish.”

Simard ended her arguments by telling the court a conviction should result.

Justice Grammond reserved her decision to March 30, 2023.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free line at 1-800-721-0066.  

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