From our correspondent
“He only touched me once. I never put myself in a situation where this could have happened again. Michael Diabo was 10 years old when the Jesuit Léon Lajoie allegedly sexually assaulted him while he was going to get bread at the church in Kahnawake, in the southern suburbs of Montreal. He had never spoken of it before this summer. But forty-five years later, a discovery led him to no longer be silent. “The story of the Kamloops graves made me realize that I was not the only victim of the Church. As with others, the discovery of 215 remains of unidentified children on the grounds of the Native Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, pointed to trauma. In communities, like that of Kahnawake, there is freedom of speech.
Between 1961 and 1990, Léon Lajoie was the parish priest of Kahnawake. A key figure in the village, who died in 1999, Father Lajoie is one of the rare non-Mohawks to be buried in the area. An affront, for Michael Diabo: “Three people, who did not know which patient it was, had asked our band council that he be buried here. In recent months, the multiple allegations against the priest have raised a question among the Mohawks: should we move his coffin? Demonstrators believe that his remains have nothing more to do there and have collected more than 200 signatures so that it is removed from the territory of the community. The chief elected to the “band council” (assembly of elected officials governing an Indian band), Ross Montour, saw the wave of anger surge: “Some even asked us to burn down the church. It’s complicated because Father Lajoie designed the youth center, among others. Me, I never felt uncomfortable with him. These are serious allegations of facts that date back over thirty years. But why accuse him now? Protesters demanded to meet with the Jesuits and an independent investigation was launched in early November to shed light on the case. Its findings are expected to be made public before the end of the year.
José Sanchez, communications director of the Jesuits of Canada, maintains that the investigation carried out in the archives of the religious community did not reveal any complaints of misconduct by the priest. “Over the past year,” he adds, “the Catholic Church has received numerous complaints of abuse from indigenous communities. (…) We believe that some are attributable to the discovery of undocumented graves in former residential schools. In his eyes, the anger over what are seen as “failures of the Church” to respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission weighs heavily as well. This commission was established between 2008 and 2015 to shed light on what happened in residential schools and its repercussions.
These languages which are loosened, Alain Arsenault also observes them. This lawyer represents the plaintiffs in a class action brought by native people who were allegedly victims of sexual assault committed by members of the Oblates of Marie-Immaculée, in Quebec. To collect their testimonies, he toured the indigenous communities formerly managed by this congregation. “The graves discovered this summer and their media coverage have accelerated things,” he says. I say it to my assistants, with each interview given: get ready to receive new witnesses… and never fail! “His cabinet has already collected more than 200 testimonies. “The Oblates were specialized in the management of remote indigenous communities, they had great freedom… In some villages, almost all the children were attacked. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate did not respond to our emails. In 2018, they said they wanted to respond “with compassion” to complainants. For Alain Arsenault, the class actions of recent years bear witness to a “takeover of power” by the indigenous populations. “People are realizing the extent of the abuse, they are no longer alone and, by saying so, they are taking a step towards healing. “At the start of her work in 2018, few people wanted to talk to her:” Now they ask us to come back a second time, because they have too much to tell us. “