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Canada police arrest priest for Indigenous school assaults

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Police announced Friday the arrest of a Catholic priest for allegedly sexually assaulting an Indigenous student five decades ago, marking the first recent charges in relation to Canada's historical residential schools scandal.

Retired Father Arthur Masse, 92, has been charged with indecent assault and released with conditions. He is to appear in court on July 20.

Indigenous leaders have called for prosecutions of former teachers and headmasters at these schools following the shocking discoveries of more than 1,300 unmarked graves at the sites last year that brought to light a dark chapter in Canada's colonial history.

Some 150,000 Indigenous, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in 139 residential schools across Canada, spending months or years isolated from their families, language and culture.

Many of the children were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

The victim in this case was 10 years old when the alleged abuses began at Fort Alexander residential school in Manitoba, between 1968 and 1970.

"The victim in this case has endured a lot throughout the investigative process and has stood firm in speaking out about what happened to her," Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Paul Manaigre told a news conference.

"The most important thing to her, today, is she was heard," he said.

Manaigre noted that 80 officers were involved in the investigation that included archival research, and it expanded over a decade to include 75 more possible victims and witnesses.

But the rest did not wish to be involved in the probe, or there wasn't enough evidence half a century later to corroborate their claims, or they are now deceased.

"This is a traumatizing experience. Some of them don't want to relive it. We understand," Manaigre commented, holding out the possibility that more victims will now come forward.

"At this time, this is the only investigation undertaken (in Manitoba) regarding residential schools and this is the only charge," he said, adding that there is no time limit for reporting sexual assaults in Canada.

To date, no other residential schools criminal investigations have been publicly announced elsewhere in Canada.

Pope Francis, when he visits Canada in July, is expected to present apologies for a century of abuses at the residential schools run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the government.

A truth and reconciliation commission concluded in 2015 that the failed government policy of assimilation amounted to "cultural genocide."

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