Ottawa woman, 97, charged with historical sexual assaults at residential, day schools
Ontario Provincial Police have laid three gross indecency charges against a 97-year-old Ottawa woman, alleging she was involved in sexual assaults in the 1960s and 1970s in northern Ontario residential and day schools.
Accused previously named on 2003 list of alleged perpetrators at St. Anne’s residential school
Brett Forester · CBC News
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have laid three gross indecency charges against a 97-year-old Ottawa woman, alleging she was involved in sexual assaults in the 1960s and 1970s in northern Ontario residential and day schools.
The accused, Francoise Seguin, was a nun with the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa who worked at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany between 1958 and 1968, CBC Indigenous has learned.
Seguin’s name appears on a list of nuns who worked at St. Anne’s, which the sisters provided the OPP in 1994 after the force opened a probe into sexual and physical abuse allegations at the institution.
Seguin’s date of birth on this list, obtained by CBC Indigenous on Thursday, matches that of the accused provided by the OPP.
St. Anne’s survivor Evelyn Korkmaz recalled accompanying a Grade 8 trip to Expo 67 in Montreal under Seguin’s supervision.
They have to acknowledge their role in terms of the traumas and the role that they played.– Anna Betty Achneepineskum, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
A picture taken at St. Anne’s before leaving shows the young Korkmaz beside Seguin, with the class behind them dressed in stereotypical fringed buckskin jackets and feathered headbands.
“At the time, I knew nothing of the abuses that took place there, and I thought she was one of the good guys,” Korkmaz recalled in an interview. “But obviously not.”
Seguin is scheduled to appear in court in Moosonee in December, police said. The charges are unproven.
Seguin was named separately on a list of alleged perpetrators filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2003. She was also known as Francoise Rachel and Weebajo, which means Walrus, the documents say.
“She had big teeth,” they add.
OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson confirmed Seguin was a nun/teacher and confirmed St. Anne’s was one of the residential schools involved, the other being Bishop Belleau School in Moosonee.
Police said alleged incidents also occurred at a detention facility in Sudbury, where newspaper archives place Seguin in 1980.
Someone came forward about the incidents late last year leading to the filing of charges on Wednesday “following an extensive investigation,” according to a press release announcing the charges.
Call for apology
Korkmaz said the filing of charges may provide closure to the survivors Seguin allegedly abused.
But Korkmaz also expressed doubt Seguin would be incarcerated given her advanced age.
A lot of Canadians still are baffled by the amount of abuse that took place in this school.– Evelyn Korkmaz, survivor
Anna Betty Achneepineskum, deputy grand chief Nishnawbe Aski Nation, representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, commended the person who came forward.
The laying of charges against a nun will help validate survivors’ experiences and contribute to their own healing, Achneepineskum said. She felt it sends a strong message to the Sisters of Charity as well.
“They have to acknowledge their role in terms of the traumas and the role that they played in these Indian residential schools because right now, they’ve been able to get off scot-free,” Achneepineskum said by phone on Thursday.
“Filing a charge against a nun is very significant in terms of ensuring the Sisters of Charity are held accountable.”
CBC Indigenous left two voicemails with the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa, also known as the Grey Nuns of the Cross, but has not received a reply.
The sisters are a Catholic missionary order that helped run St. Anne’s, alongside the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Survivors have recounted horrors at St. Anne’s, including punishment via makeshift electric chair and having to eat their own vomit when ill.
Korkmaz said the Sisters of Charity should apologize.
“An apology helps through acknowledgement and accountability and ownership of the wrongs that were done to us,” she said. “A lot of Canadians still are baffled by the amount of abuse that took place in this school.”
Gross indecency was a criminal offence before the late 1980s, when laws were updated.
“Types of sexual activity that were historically considered to be ‘immoral’ or ‘unnatural,’ but fell short of intercourse, were prohibited by the ‘gross indecency’ offence,” according to a federal government backgrounder.
Previous charges at Fort Albany school
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) says St. Anne’s Residential School operated in Fort Albany from 1906 to 1976.
There were also day schools in the Fort Albany area from 1894 to 1990, including St. Anne’s.
For more than a century, Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend schools aimed at stripping away their culture and language. Many also suffered physical and sexual abuse at these institutions.
Residential schools kept children there overnight, while day schools allowed them to go home.
St. Anne’s had as many as 280 elementary and junior high students during the time of the alleged offences, according to federal documents shared by the NCTR, which noted allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse, suspicious deaths and use of an electric chair for punishment. Five other former staff members have been criminally charged.
There are plans to search the old St. Anne’s property with ground-penetrating radar this winter.
The Bishop Horden Hall residential school had 200 or more children up to Grade 7 at this time. The NCTR doesn’t similarly note criminal charges there in its documents.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour service at 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
With files from Olivia Stefanovich