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Oblate religious order covered up decades of sexual abuse of First Nations children, victims allege

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This story is based on a report by Anne Panasuk of the investigative program, Enquête. Watch Enquête’s full report here, in French.


« He’d let us drive. He knew how to do everything. We were impressed to see a priest act that way, » recalls Jason Petiquay.

Petiquay was 11 when he was sexually abused by Raynald Couture, an Oblate missionary who worked in Wemotaci, Que., from 1981 to 1991.

The Atikamekw community 285 kilometres north of Trois-Rivières was one of many remote First Nations communities in Quebec where priests belonging to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) were spiritual leaders and authority figures for generations.

Petiquay described how Couture would lure young boys to his cabin by inviting them for a ride on his all-terrain vehicle or in his pick-up truck.

Jason Petiquay says he’s had to respond to more suicides than fires in his role as chief of the Wemotaci fire department. Many of those who took their own lives, he said, were abused by Father Raynald Couture, an Oblate missionary posted in Wemotaci from 1981 to 1991. (Jean-Pierre Gandin/Radio-Canada)

His story of abuse is one of dozens Atikamekw and Innu people in Quebec told Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête in a report set to air Thursday evening.

It paints of bleak portrait of widespread sexual abuse at the hands of at least 10 Oblate priests in eight different communities served by the missionary order, which began its evangelization work among Inuit and First Nations in Canada in 1841.

MMIWG shines light on decades-old secret

It has been almost a year since women from the isolated Innu communities of Unamen Shipu and Pakua Shipu, on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, described how they were sexually assaulted by an Oblate priest who worked in their territory for four decades, until his death in 1992.

One after another, alleged victims of the Belgian native, Father Alexis Joveneau, told the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIWG) how the charismatic and much-admired priest had abused them as children.

« I could not talk about it, » Thérèse Lalo told commissioners. « He was like a god. »

In the wake of the testimony from Lalo and others, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate issued an apology, setting up a hotline and offering psychological support to Joveneau’s alleged victims.

Father Alexis Joveneau is seen with Innu children in Unamen Shipu, Que. The Oblate missionary lived and worked in Innu communities on Quebec’s Lower North Shore for more than four decades, until his death in 1992. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec/Fonds Pauline Laurin)

« We are absolutely devastated by these troubling testimonies, » the OMI’s Quebec office said in a March statement.

But the allegations in the Enquête report suggest the religious order’s superiors long knew about allegations against Joveneau.

Francis Mark, an Innu man from Unamen Shipu who said he was assaulted by Joveneau, said many years ago, he turned for help to the late Archbishop Peter Sutton, an Oblate who was made bishop of the Labrador City-Schefferville diocese in 1974.

« He let me down, » said Mark. « He didn’t guide me. Was there justice? No. »

Devout elders kept silence

In some instances which Enquête looked into, when Oblate superiors or church officials were told about the abuse, the priests were simply sent to neighbouring communities, where other Indigenous children were abused in turn.

In other cases, as in that of Father Raynald Couture in Wemotaci, deeply religious elders in the community insisted on silence.

Charles Coocoo of Wemotaci said he confronted Father Raynald Couture about his abuse of children, asking him to leave the community, but Atikamekw elders insisted the Oblate priest stay. (Jean-Pierre Gandin/Radio-Canada)

« The mushums, the kookums [grandmothers and grandfathers], they asked him to stay in the community, » said Charles Coocoo, a Wemotaci man who once demanded that Couture leave.

Mary Coon, a social worker at the time, went straight to the religious order to ask them to intervene, but without an official police complaint, the Oblates refused.

« The boys wouldn’t file a complaint, » said Coon. « We wanted to get him out of here, but how could we? There was no complaint. We had nothing. »

In 1991, Couture was sent to France, where he remained until eight of his victims pressed charges. In 2004, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail, a punishment another victim, Alex Coocoo, called so light as to be « ridiculous. »

‘A sin to talk’

Claude Niquay said he was a seven-year-old altar boy when he alleges he was first molested by Father Clément Couture, another Oblate missionary who was posted in Manawan, an Atikamekw community southwest of Wemotaci, until 1996.

Niquay was forced to see his alleged abuser every day, when he delivered meals cooked by his grandmother to the priest.

When he tried to tell his grandmother about the assaults, he was punished.

« She’d tell me to go sit in a corner, that it was a sin to talk about those things, » he said.

Claude Niquay says he wasn’t allowed to talk about the abuse he says he suffered as a boy, told speaking out against a priest was blasphemy. (Radio-Canada)

Before Couture’s arrival, the community had been served by two other Oblate priests, Édouard Meilleur, and later, Jean-Marc Houle, whose alleged victims — elderly now — still recall their assaults vividly.

Antoine Quitish was just five when Meilleur allegedly stripped off his cloak and forced himself on him, « poking » Quitish’s chest with his penis.

« I’m happy that [the story] is out now, » said Quitish, now 75.

Other Atikamekw elders described Meilleur as an exhibitionist who would slip his hands under girls’ dresses during confession.

Father Edouard Meilleur, OMI, right, worked in Manawan, Que., from 1938 to 1953. Elders recall that he’d slip his hands under girls’ dresses as they confessed to him. (Submitted by the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw)

Enquête heard how Houle, who was posted in Manawan from 1953 to 1970, was drawn to pregnant women: he’s alleged to have spread holy oil over the stomachs, the breasts and the genitals of his victims, explaining he was warding off the devil in their unborn children.

The stories got out.

« I told the archdiocese, ‘If you don’t get that guy out of there, tomorrow morning it will be on the front page of the newspapers’, » recalls Huron-Wendat leader Max Gros-Louis, then the head of the Association of Indians of Quebec.

Houle was removed, said Gros-Louis — only to be sent to the Innu community of Pessamit, on Quebec’s North Shore.

Community warned of priest’s behaviours

Robert Dominique, then a band councillor in Pessamit, said his Atikamekw friends warned him about Houle, but the culture of the time ensured his silence.

« For elders, their faith is deeply rooted, » Dominique said. « Religion is sacred. »

Saying out loud that a priest was violating women and children was inconceivable, Gros-Louis agreed.

« You wouldn’t be allowed to go out anymore. You’d be banished, excommunicated, » he said.

There is no evidence Houle’s alleged assaults continued in Pessamit. However, people in that community recall abuse by three Oblate priests who preceded him.

Rachelle Dominique said was assaulted by three different Oblate priests sent to the Innu community of Pessamit on Quebec’s North Shore. (Jean-Pierre Gandin/Radio-Canada)

Dominique’s sister, Rachelle, alleges she was first assaulted by Father Sylvio Lesage in the 1960s, and when Father Roméo Archambault replaced him in the 1970s, for her, things got worse.

He would take her into the church basement, she remembers.

« He was behind me, holding my little breasts, » she alleges, « and after I had to masturbate him in the dark. »

She described feeling « broken, vilified. »

Radio-Canada’s Enquête uncovered allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of 10 Oblate priests in eight different communities served by the missionary order. (Radio-Canada)

Jean-Yves Rousselot also recounted being sexually assaulted by Archambault — alleged assaults that continued when that Oblate missionary was replaced by Father René Lapointe. The young altar boy told his grandfather what had happened and was beaten.

« I had to go to confession, to confess that I had committed blasphemy, » Rousselot said.

Lapointe was his confessor.

The priest would later be relocated to another Innu community, Nutashkuan, where he remained for 30 years, allegedly paying children to masturbate him.

In 2003, provincial police launched an investigation following a complaint, but charges were never laid.

Class action suit awaits Oblates

In the Innu community of Mani-Utenam, Gérard Michel recalls community elders sending him, along with another young man, to Baie-Comeau in 1970 to ask the archbishop to remove Father Omer Provencher, who is alleged to have been sexually assaulting girls in the community.

Nothing was done.

« Nothing, nothing, nothing, » said Michel, now an elder himself.

Provencher, who left the priesthood to live with an Innu woman years ago, told Enquête he will not answer any questions until he is formally charged with a crime.

Father René Lapointe, the priest who spent three decades in Nutashkuan, denies he ever sexually assaulted children.

Now at the Oblates’ retirement home in Richelieu, he told Enquête there is absolutely no truth in any of it.

« Nothing is true in that story. These are all inventions, » he said.

Raynald Couture was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2004. He said he asked the Oblates for psychological support during his time in Wemotaci but was told to deal with his problems on his own. (Radio-Canada)

Raynald Couture, the Oblate priest who was found guilty of sexually assaulting children in Wemotaci, lives in the same retirement home.

He admits his past crimes.

« I drank like a bastard, and that’s when those things happened, » he told Enquête. He called his assaults « a weakness » and then a « game with the children, » and said he sought help from his superiors, asking to see the Oblates’ psychologist.

« They never even came, » he said.

Most of the priests accused of having assaulted so many Innu and Atikamekw people as children are dead now; Father Alexis Joveneau, who died in 1992, is buried in the cemetery in Unamen Shipu, where he spent so many years.

In late March, just days after the Oblates issued their apology and set up a hotline for Joveneau’s alleged victims, a class action suit was launched in Quebec for all victims of sexual assault at the hands of Oblate priests.

Lawyer Alain Arsenault says to date, 48 victims have come forward, alleging they were assaulted by 14 different Oblate missionaries.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are still very present in several of Quebec’s Innu communities. (Radio-Canada)

With the court case pending, the head of the Oblates’ Quebec office, Father Superior Luc Tardif, turned down a request to be interviewed for this story.

Regardless of the results of that lawsuit, people in Unamen Shipu are asking that Joveneau’s remains, buried next to their Innu loved ones, be exhumed and taken away.

– Based on a report by Anne Panasuk of Radio-Canada’s Enquête



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Anglais

A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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Anglais

9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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