By Brittany Guyot
APTN Investigates has learned that 82 Catholic priests and nuns were named as alleged abusers in Manitoba residential schools.
A review of court documents detailed horrific physical and sexual abuses of Indigenous children in the federal residential school system.
The Catholic orders were put in charge of eight of 14 residential schools that operated in Manitoba. There were 139 residential schools opened nationally to assimilate thousands of Inuit, Métis and First Nations children.
The documents show the lawsuits were filed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, years before the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement [IRRSA] was finalized.
The majority of the lawsuits were abandoned the same year the settlement was finalized.
Mary Vanasse was sent to Sandy Bay Indian Residential School. She said the memories still haunt her.
“I think at first, I was really scared when I started seeing how the nuns were so abusive to the children,” she said.
Vanasse said it was common knowledge that children were being abused at Sandy Bay.
“The older girls were going around bugging the little girls, because I know it happened to me a couple times myself,” she said, “and somebody jumped in bed with me and tried to touch me and wanted me to touch them. And when I refused, she hit me.”
Vanasse isn’t surprised to hear how many alleged abusers walked the halls of her former school.
“I think there should have been some consequences,” she added, noting she feels the alleged abusers should have been criminally investigated.
Vanasse said her road to healing has been a long journey. She said spending time with her grandchildren and journaling have helped her along the way.
Later this year, she is set to publish a memoir about her residential school experience.
Rita Guimond is a survivor of the Fort Alexander Residential School that was located on Sagkeeng First Nation.
APTN Investigates identified a lawsuit she filed in 2004 against the Catholic church and the government of Canada.
“We were given different clothes to put on, and our clothes had numbers,” she said.
Guimond said her time at Fort Alexander was devastating. For years, it impacted her ability to show love to her own children, she added.
Court documents reveal the residential school housed more than 70 alleged abusers from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Including Fr. Arthur Massé, who was charged in June of this year with indecently assaulting a girl at the school.
Massé was accused of physical and sexual abuse in five separate lawsuits from 1998 to 2006.
Those lawsuits were abandoned in 2006 when IRSSA was finalized.
Massé is among dozens of Oblate priests accused of abuse, including Fr. Apollinaire Plamondon.
Residential school survivor Theodore Fontaine, who attended Fort Alexander Residential School, identified Plamondon as his alleged abuser in his memoir Broken Circle.
In an APTN News interview in 2014, Fontaine alleged Plamondon was a “sexual perpetrator.”
“Most of these people in this area, when they got their settlements under the residential school agreement, you’d say to them, ‘Man, you have a beautiful truck.’ They’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s my Plamondon car,’” Fontaine told APTN’s Cheryl McKenzie at the time.
APTN Investigates found Plamondon was named in 32 different lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse.
No criminal charges were ever laid against the now-deceased priest.
According to Fr. Ken Thorson, who speaks for OMI in Canada, Plamondon was referenced in 16 Independent Assessment Process [IAP] hearings. The hearings were held for survivors to testify about the abuse they suffered in support of their claims for compensation under IRSSA.
“The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are committed to full transparency about our role in Canada’s [Indian Residential Schools] system, including the operation of 48 schools [across Canada],” Thorson said in an email.
IRSSA was negotiated to address the harms caused by the schools. It awarded $1.9 billion to survivors, 26,000 of whom were put through IAP hearings to reveal serious physical and sexual abuses.
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