A 97-year-old nun has been criminally charged in a historical sexual-assault case connected to a notorious residential school in Northern Ontario.
Francoise Seguin, 97, of Ottawa, has been charged with three counts of gross indecency – a criminal code offence that was repealed in 1987 – the Ontario Provincial Police announced Thursday. She is scheduled to appear in Moosonee court on Dec. 5.
According to a press release, the James Bay OPP was contacted in late 2022 about incidents that allegedly occurred in the 1960s and 1970s at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, and a day school – Bishop Belleau Day School – in Moosonee, as well as an unnamed detention facility in Sudbury.
OPP Spokesperson Bill Dickson said Ms. Seguin was a nun and teacher at the schools. He said the case involves a single victim who was a young male student at the time. Mr. Dickson said he is not aware of any other potential victims.
St. Anne’s operated in Fort Albany, Ont., until 1976 and was notorious for stories of sexual abuse against students, who were also punished with electric chairs and forced to eat their own vomit.
According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, previous investigations have led to convictions against four former staff members on charges including indecent assault, assault causing bodily harm, assault and administering a noxious substance.
Anna Betty Achneepineskum, Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which includes the communities that former students are from, said in an interview that she commends the former student for coming forward and is grateful to police for pursuing the investigation.
“When it comes to these types of testimonies, it’s very difficult. It takes a lot of courage, because there’s been many times where no one believed them. And also the court system has not been kind to First Nation citizens in this country, in order for them to acquire that sense of justice. So this is very significant in terms of the validation,” she said.
Ms. Achneepineskum hopes this case will lead to nuns’ organizations taking accountability for their role in Canada’s residential-school system.
A group of survivors from the school have fought for years to have documents about recorded abuses at the school released, which they say could support their claims for federal compensation, under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2006. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear their case last year.
The IRSSA between the federal government, residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations and churches governed what financial recompense survivors would receive.
Documentary evidence was supposed to help determine the payments made to those who suffered physical and sexual abuse while being forced to attend the church-run, government-funded institutions. But much of what they received, after an Ontario Superior Court order in 2014, was heavily redacted and unhelpful.
Ms. Achneepineskum said this case further highlights the importance of those records.
“There’s a lot of other potential cases out there. And I’m just glad for the victim … that this individual is still alive to be charged.”