June 14, 2022

Episode 6: Father Gauthier (S2 Surviving St. Michael's)

by Stolen

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Connie goes to Edmonton to try to talk to Father Gauthier, the priest who two of her uncles said abused them at residential school.

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Connie Walker: Before we begin, we want to let you know there are descriptions of violence and sexual abuse against children in this episode. Please take care while listening.

Connie: Previously on Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's.

Lorraine Cameron: Uncle Ivan was sexually abused by a priest.

Connie: Oh, no!

Lorraine Cameron: Mm-hmm.

Connie: Did he say which priest?

Lorraine Cameron: Hmm, was it Gauthier?

Bill Cameron: Gauthier.

Lorraine Cameron: Father Gauthier.

Margaret Gamble: He's the one that married Uncle and I. He was a good priest.

Connie: "Like the guys in the penitentiary I said to them, "Oh my God, maybe I should be in here also, but I never got caught." Oh, my God!

Eugene Arcand: I actually just about killed Father Gauthier at a national event in Edmonton. I come so close to throwing him over that balcony.

Connie: You wanted to charge the priest who had abused you?

Harris Cameron: Mm-hmm. Yeah. But nothing ever came of it.

Connie: Who is it?

Harris Cameron: Father Gauthier.

Connie: Father Gauthier?

Harris Cameron: Yeah.

Connie: So we're at this nursing home in a small town just outside of Edmonton. I feel like—I mean, I kind of just want to go in because I'm like, I've spent so much time imagining this moment. And ...

Anya Schultz: And you feel ready?

Connie: No, I don't feel ready. No. God, how could—I don't know. I don't know if you could feel ready. I do not feel ready.

Connie: I'm in Alberta, sitting in a rental car with my producer Anya Schultz. We're outside of Father Gauthier's nursing home, and I'm about to go in to try to talk to him.

Connie: This whole thing started because my brother Hal shared that post about my dad, and about my dad beating up a priest that had abused him at residential school. And so we've talked to so many people and heard about so many priests, but he was the first one that we heard about who was abusive to kids. And we think he could have been back in Saskatchewan around the time my dad was in the RCMP, so he could have been the guy that my dad pulled over.

Connie: I don't know. I want to go and ask him, and I want to ask him about the allegations that he abused my dad's brothers, Ivan and Harris. I have a feeling that he's heard of these allegations before because they went through the IAP process. So all we can do is go and ask.

Connie: After that conversation in the car, I did talk to Father Gauthier. We spoke for a long time. But before we go any further, I need to tell you we've been cautioned against airing this interview. Here's what happened.

Connie: After speaking with Father Gauthier, we reached out to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Catholic order that ran St. Michael's. I told them about our investigation into the school and Father Gauthier, and I began emailing with the head of the order in Western Canada, a priest named Father Ken Thorson. As the provincial superior, he acts as a spokesperson for the Oblates.

Connie: He told me they acknowledge the quote "painful reality" that physical and sexual abuse happened at residential schools run by the Oblates, but he said my email was the first time he had heard of any allegations against Father Gauthier. He said they take these allegations seriously, and he hopes they'll be able to respond in a way that provides a meaningful sense of justice to the alleged victims and their families—including me. But Thorson also told me that Father Gauthier has dementia, and that the Oblates act as his legal representative.

Connie: He said it would be irresponsible for us to air our interview with Gauthier. Thorson sent me a letter from Father Gauthier's doctor who said Gauthier has Alzheimer's, and that any information he gives does not reflect reality.

Connie: When I interviewed Father Gauthier, we spoke for nearly two hours about his time at St. Michael's, his thoughts on residential schools, and allegations of abuse. And now the Oblates were telling us to disregard everything he said. As journalists, we're always weighing the ethics of how to responsibly report a story, and clearly, Father Gauthier is an elderly man with some limitations, so as a team, we talked extensively about whether to use this interview at all.

Connie: Father Gauthier is accused of abusing his power and harming vulnerable children, and now we were having to consider his vulnerabilities. He's one of the few priests and administrators from St. Michael's who is still alive. He was there for over a decade. He was promoted from supervisor to vice principal to principal, and was the last remaining Oblate priest to work there.

Connie: Despite the Oblates' acknowledgment of the abuse at residential schools, our investigation into St. Michael's is the first of its kind. We haven't found a single Oblate priest who was ever convicted of a crime relating to abuse at the school.

Connie: The circumstances of our interview with Father Gauthier are complicated, but it may be the only chance for us to put questions to a man who's been accused of sexually abusing children at St. Michael's—and to hear his response. So for the sake of transparency, and because we believe the public has the right to hear from him, we have decided to publish a portion of our interview. We think it's important to hear what Father Gauthier has to say about the allegations made against him.

Connie: I'm Connie Walker. From Gimlet Media and Spotify, this is Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's.

Connie: Do you mind if I move this chair closer?

Father Gauthier: You can sit there.

Connie: Yeah can I sit there?

Father Gauthier: Oh, yeah.

Connie: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I'm glad to get a chance to talk to you.

Father Gauthier: Okay.

Connie: What was Beardy's like? What was it like to work there?

Father Gauthier: Well, it was always pleasant.

Connie: Yeah.

Father Gauthier: That's why I liked it.

Connie: I spoke to Father Gauthier in his room. He agreed to be recorded, and we sat across from each other. He looked just like the man I've seen in photos, except much older. He was mostly bald, with wisps of short white hair around his ears. He wore gray sweatpants and a pair of plaid slippers, and there was a large gold cross hanging around his neck.

Connie: I wanted to know if Gauthier remembered my Auntie Margaret, the one whose wedding he officiated.

Connie: You did a lot of weddings in Beardy's, right? Do you—do you remember Margaret Gamble?

Father Gauthier: Yes.

Connie: Really? That's my auntie.

Father Gauthier: I see.

Connie: Yeah. What do you remember about her?

Father Gauthier: She's a nice lady.

Connie: Yeah.

Connie: Father Gauthier was 89 when I spoke to him. He's a native French speaker and hard of hearing, so I tried to speak loudly and slowly.

Connie: What was life like at St. Michael's, at the residential school?

Father Gauthier: Well, I was a success, successful there.

Connie: How so? What was successful about it?

Father Gauthier: Well, we succeeded. There was no problem.

Connie: No problems?

Father Gauthier: When you succeed you are happy. We were succeeding.

Connie: So you were happy.

Father Gauthier: Yes, of course.

Connie: Why? Why did you like it?

Father Gauthier: Because I was treated properly, and we had fun there and everything.

Connie: What kind of fun did you have?

Father Gauthier: Oh, we played baseball, we played hockey and football. So we had ping pong.

Connie: So you had a good life in residential schools.

Father Gauthier: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Connie: Do you think it was a good life for the children in there?

Father Gauthier: I think in general it was.

Connie: What was your relationship like with children?

Father Gauthier: I think it was—you can ask them that. I think they liked me very much. They still say that to people. They tell I was the best superior we had. [laughs]

Connie: Why? Why did they like you so much?

Father Gauthier: Because I was good. I was a good man.

Connie: You were a good man?

Father Gauthier: I had good manners.

Connie: Can I—can I show you a picture of my dad to see if you remember him?

Father Gauthier: Maybe I will remember. I don't know.

Connie: I brought along photos of my dad and his brothers as children to show to Father Gauthier.

Connie: We'll see. Actually, it's my dad and his brothers.

Father Gauthier: Where's your dad in there?

Connie: My dad is that child there.

Father Gauthier: Oh, I see.

Connie: His name was Howard Cameron. Do you remember him?

Father Gauthier: No.

Connie: No. This is my uncle Harris. Do you remember him? Harris Cameron?

Father Gauthier: Not really.

Connie: No?

Father Gauthier: I know his face, but that's about all.

Connie: Do you remember any of those boys?

Father Gauthier: Their face yes, but not their name.

Connie: They were all Camerons.

Father Gauthier: Oh. So why are they so special?

Connie: Why are they special? Well, they're my family.

Father Gauthier: Oh, I see.

Connie: Yeah. They're my family.

Connie: My dad is the reason I began this investigation, but Father Gauthier didn't seem to remember him—at least not as a boy. But I want to know: does he have a memory of getting pulled over by a police officer in the 1970s?

Connie: My father was an RCMP officer.

Father Gauthier: Yes.

Connie: Later in life. And he said that he pulled over a priest who had abused him and beat him up.

Father Gauthier: Yeah.

Connie: Were you ever pulled over by a police officer and assaulted?

Father Gauthier: No.

Connie: No.

Connie: Gauthier was so quick to dismiss this question, but I'm not sure he even stopped to consider what I was asking him.

Connie: A lot of survivors have spoken out about bad experiences in residential schools.

Father Gauthier: Well, I mean you have to expect to have some bad moments, I guess. You know, when you got a bunch of kids, you have to expect something like that.

Connie: They were sometimes punished or disciplined at school though, right?

Father Gauthier: Well, sometimes you have to expect that, you know what I mean? When you get a bunch of kids, discipline is important.

Connie: Discipline's important?

Father Gauthier: Oh, yes. Of course.

Connie: Yeah. What about sexual abuse?

Father Gauthier: No, this I never had.

Connie: Because my uncle Harris said that you sexually abused him.

Father Gauthier: Who? This one?

Connie: Yes.

Father Gauthier: What did I do? I don't recall that.

Connie: He says he was sexually abused by you.

Father Gauthier: I don't remember that.

Connie: And my other—my dad's other brother, Ivan, said you—you sexually abused him as well.

Father Gauthier: Well, this was not my style. I don't understand it. It was not my style to abuse kids sexually.

Connie: It wasn't your style?

Father Gauthier: It was not in my way of life.

Connie: Well, why would—why would they accuse you if you—if you didn't hurt them?

Father Gauthier: I don't know. I never heard anywhere I was accused of all this. That's the first time I hear about it.

Connie: I found this moment in the interview especially frustrating. My uncle Harris told me he named Father Gauthier as an abuser in his hearing for the Independent Assessment Process, the IAP. So Gauthier should have been notified about the allegations made against him and invited to respond.

Father Gauthier: Well, I don't recall that.

Connie: Did you get notification that they were accusing you?

Father Gauthier: No.

Connie: Did you ever testify? Have you ever faced any kind of criminal charges?

Father Gauthier: Not that I know.

Connie: Not that you know. Well, my uncle and my other uncle, two of them accused you of abusing them sexually.

Father Gauthier: Well, I'm surprised about that because this was not my style to abuse anybody sexually. Not even today.

Connie: What was your style?

Father Gauthier: Well, I was not doing that.

Connie: I'm going to be interviewing other people from St. Michael's school, and I'm going to ask them about you.

Father Gauthier: Sure you can ask them.

Connie: What do you think they're gonna say?

Father Gauthier: They won't say that I abused them sexually. This wasn't my style, because for me that's not a—that's a bad thing to be there if you—if you are doing that because you are teaching something very bad to young people.

Connie: I asked Father Gauthier multiple times about allegations of abuse, and he consistently denied them by saying it "wasn't his style."

Connie: Did you ever witness other people abusing children?

Father Gauthier: I did what?

Connie: Did you see other—other priests?

Father Gauthier: Maybe one time I saw that, but I never paid attention to that.

Connie: What did you see?

Father Gauthier: That he was ...

Connie: What is it?

Father Gauthier: Sexually, mostly.

Connie: You saw someone being sexually abused?

Father Gauthier: Me, I never was abused.

Connie: Did you see someone sexually abusing a child?

Father Gauthier: Yes of course.

Connie: Who did you see? Who was it?

Father Gauthier: Well I cannot name because I don't want to put them down.

Connie: Well, why not?

Father Gauthier: Because that's not my style to put people down.

Connie: What about the children who were hurt?

Father Gauthier: Yeah, well then I can speak to them, yes, and then be sorry about it. Because that's unacceptable for me at any time at any school.

Connie: Well, it happened so much to so many kids.

Father Gauthier: Well, I know. I mean, that's our style today. I mean, every school, I'm sure some of them are abused. Every school got that problem.

Connie: Yeah.

Father Gauthier: No, but if this is not happening, they are blind. [laughs]

Connie: How many people at the school were abusing children?

Father Gauthier: I suppose there were always a couple guys.

Connie: Where did it happen?

Father Gauthier: In their bedroom mostly.

Connie: How did you witness it? Did you walk into the bedroom and see it happening?

Father Gauthier: Oh, maybe I saw that three times.

Connie: You saw an adult with a child?

Father Gauthier: Well, it was a teacher.

Connie: With a child?

Father Gauthier: Yeah. Yeah.

Connie: Father Gauthier wasn't entirely clear on this point, but he seemed to be saying that more than once, he walked in on an adult abusing a child at the school. But when I pressed him for details, he seemed deliberate about not wanting to name names.

Connie: So what happened to that—to that person?

Father Gauthier: Well, if I knew them they were told to stop, otherwise I will fire them. Because that's something I cannot stand, because that's abusing kids and this is not very nice.

Connie: Why didn't you call the police?

Father Gauthier: I never called police for that. I just tell the superior about it.

Connie: Who was the superior?

Father Gauthier: Oh, no matter which name it is, I tell them and ask him to take action because he's the superior, because he knows it's not acceptable in the school.

Connie: Which teacher was it that you saw abusing kids?

Father Gauthier: No, this I cannot mention that. This is ...

Connie: Why?

Father Gauthier: Because I put them down.

Connie: Was it another priest who was abusing?

Father Gauthier: Yes.

Connie: Well, if they hurt a child, why—why not expose them for that if you think it's so wrong?

Father Gauthier: No, I report him, but I don't tell them.

Connie: If you believe it's wrong to do that, why not expose that person?

Father Gauthier: He has to be fired. That's what I was doing.

Connie: What Father Gauthier seemed to be saying was that he reported abuse to his superior, and when he was principal, he fired people.

Connie: Who did you fire?

Father Gauthier: Oh, I cannot name them.

Connie: How many people? Like, four people, five people? One?

Father Gauthier: Oh at least three.

Connie: Three. Was that ever documented anywhere?

Father Gauthier: Huh?

Connie: Was it ever—did you ever write a letter, or did you—how did you ...?

Father Gauthier: I go and speak to the director.

Connie: Okay.

Father Gauthier: Oh, no. I don't write it down.

Connie: And you didn't write it down? No? How come?

Father Gauthier: I just tell the superior.

Connie: Okay.

Father Gauthier: I was very strong on that, and somebody that has abused kids sexually, he has to be fired. We cannot keep that guy because he won't stop.

Connie: He wouldn't stop?

Father Gauthier: If he knows that we don't—we don't know he is doing that right now, he won't stop. Because you know when we start to do that we don't stop.

Connie: Hmm.

Father Gauthier: We need to stop them, otherwise they will keep on.

Connie: How do you know abusers don't stop?

Father Gauthier: That's their style of life.

Connie: Yeah. How do you know that?

Father Gauthier: Because by confession.

Connie: Okay. So people would confess to you that it happened again and again and again?

Father Gauthier: Yeah. If you know, you have to take action because it will spread like peanut butter.

Connie: Why are so many priests accused of abuse?

Father Gauthier: Oh, yes.

Connie: But why does it happen?

Father Gauthier: Because they are human. Simple as that.

Connie: I read an article where you told the journalist that you were speaking with people in prison, and you said "Maybe I should be in here also, but I never got caught."

Father Gauthier: Yeah. Well, you don't go with—you don't go necessarily to prison because of abuse. You go for many a reason. You stole, you—that kind of things.

Connie: Do you worry about getting in trouble because of things that happened in your past?

Father Gauthier: Oh, no. If I was in trouble, I won't like that. My parents, they taught me very well, and they told me what to do and not to do. I had good parents, I can tell you that. They were example to me. As far as I know I never have abused sexually a student. That's something for me, it was not my style. That's not the defects I had. I do have defects, but not that one. [laughs]

Connie: What were the defects you had?

Father Gauthier: Sometimes telling lies. [laughs]

Connie: You sometimes lie?

Father Gauthier: I tell lies sometimes, not too often.

Connie: Are you lying to me now?

Father Gauthier: Sometimes I do, but not very often.

Connie: Are you lying to me now?

Father Gauthier: No, no, no, no. I got no reason to tell you lies.

Connie: Well, you could get in trouble if you admitted to abusing students.

Father Gauthier: Yes.

Connie: Do you worry about getting into trouble?

Father Gauthier: I nev—as far as I know, I never have abused sexually a student.

Connie: Father, are you telling me the truth about your own experiences?

Father Gauthier: Huh?

Connie: Are you telling the truth about your experiences with children?

Father Gauthier: Of course.

Connie: This conversation with Father Gauthier left me feeling unsettled. He described a version of St. Michael's that was unrecognizable to me—where the school was successful, everyone had fun, and he was a beloved priest. He said the students would remember him as a good man. But he said other things that sounded disturbingly familiar.

Connie: Gauthier said that he saw sexual abuse at St. Michael's. He even seemed to recount specific instances of it, though he denied ever participating in the abuse. But even today, listening to his interview, I don't know what I can put stock in, and what I should disregard as the words of a man suffering from dementia.

Connie: The purpose of this interview was to ask Gauthier about the accusations I've heard, to give him an opportunity to respond, and to give us a chance for accountability. This did not feel like accountability. It's frustrating that he's now 90 years old, and this was the first attempt that I know of to hold him publicly accountable.

Connie: And then, just a day after my interview with Gauthier, I got a call from someone else in my family. They said another family member of ours accused Gauthier of sexual abuse. They had seen their IAP documents that claimed Gauthier would go into the dorms at night and pick a child to abuse. Our family member would cover their head with their blanket and hope that it wasn't them. They said the abuse sometimes happened in the chapel or in Gauthier's bedroom. That was the third allegation of sexual abuse against Gauthier in my family.

Connie: Throughout this investigation, I've been trying to find corroboration for these allegations. And then a month ago, I found something: a set of records that name Father Gauthier, court documents from a lawsuit filed in 2000 by my uncle Ivan Cameron against the Oblates and the Canadian government. His statement of claim details what he says Father Gauthier did to him at St. Michael's starting at the age of seven. And a warning: what it says is difficult to hear.

Connie: It reads: "The Plaintiff was sexually molested by a Father Gauthier who was a priest on staff of the Residential School. Father Gauthier would fondle the Plaintiff's genitalia and sodomize the Plaintiff on a daily basis."

Connie: Ivan's claim states that Gauthier was able to abuse him over a prolonged period because he used physical violence and threats. The document goes on to say that school authorities knew or should have known that Ivan was being sexually abused, but that they did nothing to stop it.

Connie: When Ivan says he was abused by Gauthier on a daily basis every day for the years he was at St. Michael's, it reminds me of what Gauthier told me—that you have to fire abusers or they won't stop. The allegations made in the statement of claim by Ivan were never tested in court. He discontinued the lawsuit in 2004, probably to take part in the IAP.

Connie: The file includes a statement of defense from the Oblates. In 2000, they denied Ivan's allegations of abuse. They denied that they were entrusted with his education, care or well being. They denied having any responsibility in running the school—and they also denied employing Father Gauthier or having any authority over him. They said that even if what Ivan claimed was found to be true, the Canadian government was at fault, not the Oblates.

Connie: Now more than 20 years later, the Oblates say they take responsibility for their role in the residential school system. And when it comes to sex abuse allegations against priests, Father Thorson says they now have a policy. As part of it, it's Father Thorson's job as provincial superior to know about these claims. But when I first reached out to him, he said he didn't know about any allegations against Gauthier.

Connie: And then a few weeks later, he told me he'd asked around to Oblate priests and former staff, and that they weren't aware of any claims against Gauthier either. So I sent Father Thorson the court documents with Ivan's allegations. And then he wrote back with new information.

Connie: He said that a review of legal records from Oblate-run residential schools revealed that Father Gauthier was referenced in 23 IAP claims, and that 16 of those claims were deemed by the IAP to be credible allegations of sexual abuse against Father Gauthier. That's at least 16 survivors, 16 children whose childhoods were stolen, 16 children who left residential school haunted by this abuse, who had to drag their trauma out into the light just to be "deemed credible."

Connie: These survivors didn't look back at residential school as a "successful place" where they had fun. And I'm pretty sure they don't remember Father Gauthier as a good man.

Connie: This investigation started out with the goal of trying to find the name of the priest who abused my dad, but after learning this about Father Gauthier, that no longer feels like enough. St. Michael's was open for over a hundred years. How many abusive priests walked those halls? I want to know all of their names.

Connie: Next time on Stolen: Surviving St Michael's.

Rob Talach: They ran 70 percent of the Catholic residential schools. There should be prison busloads of them.

Connie: And what was your reaction when you got that email?

Chantelle Bellrichard: It was shocking in that these files are public, but you need to know how to find them. And I don't know if any us could have anticipated that's the number we would be looking at, but it stops you. You know, stops you dead in your tracks.

Connie: Stolen: Surviving St. Michael's is a Gimlet Media and Spotify original production.

The show is hosted and reported by me, Connie Walker. Additional reporting by Betty Ann Adam. Reporting and producing by Chantelle Bellrichard, Max Green and Anya Schultz. Our supervising producer is Ellen Frankman. Our editor is Devon Taylor. Our consulting editor is Heather Evans. Additional editorial support from Lydia Polgreen and Reyhan Harmanci. Fact-checking by Naomi Barr.

Connie: Original music by Emma Munger, Cris Derksen, Raymond Cameron and Catherine Anderson. Scoring, sound design and mixing by Emma Munger. Music supervision by Liz Fulton.

Connie: Legal support from Iris Fischer, Nathalie Russell, Whitney Potter and Rachel Strom.

Connie: If you have information that you'd like to share about St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, you can write to us at: stolen(@)spotify.com.

Connie: If you are a survivor or intergenerational survivor of Canada's residential school system and you need help, there's a 24-hour support line you can call: 1-866-925-4419.

Connie: And if you or someone you know is dealing with physical or sexual violence, you can find resources in your area by going to Spotify.com/stolen.

Connie: Thank you for listening.