Former N.W.T. priest accused of indecent assault in 1980s

By Caitrin Pilkington

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Oblate Father Camille Piche, 86, was summoned to appear in Fort Simpson this month on a charge of indecent assault on a female during the 1980s.

Piche did not appear in person but a lawyer, Alexander A Koustov, attended the March 8 appearance on his behalf. The charge was first reported by the CBC.

The Crown is now expected to decide on August 30 whether to proceed with the case as a summary conviction or an indictable offence, which could open the door to a Supreme Court trial.

According to court documents, the alleged incident occurred between 1981 and 1982 in Fort Simpson.

Father Ken Thorson, a leader within the organization of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, answered a request for comment by email.

“Upon being made aware of the allegations against Camille Piche, the Oblates immediately removed him from public ministry and placed him under active monitoring in accordance with our safeguarding policy,”  wrote Thorson.

“Camille Piche is presently living in an independent living centre that is neither owned nor administered by the Oblates. We maintain regular contact with the facility to monitor and provide any support necessary to reduce the likeliness of repeat offences.”

Piche became a priest in 1963 and arrived in the Northwest Territories to work as a Catholic missionary in 1964.

He spent time in communities like Del??n?, Kakisa and Fort Good Hope, working at times as the director of a residential school and as a priest, before settling in Fort Simpson.

In 1995, he was promoted to oversee the Grandin Province of the Oblates in Edmonton, which administered nine residential schools and was involved in  14 others.

During his time as a provincial superior, Piche oversaw responses to more than 1,700 lawsuits from former residential school students and helped organize more than 125 years of Oblate records.

Those records were transferred, with his assistance, to the Provincial Archives of Alberta in 2018.

A 2008 Edmonton Journal report credited Piche with inviting the Pope to Fort Simpson in the 1980s, and he appears in several books about decolonization and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

For more than a decade, Piche was a fixture in Fort Simpson. One report notes his commitment to conducting Mass in the village in Dene Zhatie.

Fort Simpson residents Wilbert Antoine and Martina Norwegian said they were saddened to hear of the allegations.

“He was always so positive, so happy,” said Norwegian, who often attended Piche’s services. “He would talk to you like you were the only person in the room. He was one of our favourite priests.”

“I always thought he was a nice guy, but that doesn’t mean much,” said Antoine. “People here will be following this case, that’s for sure.”

 Caitrin Pilkington is a  Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with CABIN RADIO. The LJI program is federally funded.

 

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