Father Rheal Forest has accused residential schools survivors of lying about the abuse they experienced for money.
By Maryam Razzaq
A Catholic priest in Winnipeg, Father Rheal Forest has been banned by a Winnipeg archdiocese for asserting Residential School Survivors were lying about the sexual abuse they endured in Residential Schools. He further added the accusations were done for monetary gains. Father Rheal continued to spread falsehoods around the facts about Residential Schools, and even joked about shooting individuals for defacing churches with graffiti in the aftermath of the unmarked graves that have been found onsite or near Residential School grounds which were primarily run by the Catholic Church.
Forest made many shocking and appalling statements over the weeks of services at the St. Emile Roman Catholic Church, and many of those can be found on the Churches Facebook page but has now been removed.
During a July 10 mass, Forest was temporarily placed at St. Emile while the parish’s regular pastor, Father Gerry Sembrano took a leave for vacation.
“If they wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes – lie that they were abused sexually and for another $50,000,” Forest said.
He continued to say, “it’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie,” and further discussed personal experiences of working 22 years in northern Manitoba, and once again assert all the Indigenous people liked residential schools.
While Forest acknowledged that a few Indigenous peoples had a bad treatment, some of it was not due to the priests and nuns, but rather the night watchmen.
He shrugged and said, “there are some abuse and scandals in any institution, it always happens”.
In its 2015 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard from more than 6,000 witnesses, many of whom survived the living in the residential schools as students. It was found with concrete evidence that children were abused – physically, emotionally, and sexually.
“When it came to taking actions on the abuse of Aboriginal children, early on, Indian Affairs and the churches placed their own interests ahead of the children in their care and then covered up that victimization. It was cowardly behavior. The failure to develop, implement, and monitor effective discipline sent an unspoken message that there were no real limits on what could be done to Aboriginal children within the walls of a residential school,” stated the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report.
As of January 15, 2015, the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) which was established under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) received 37,951 claims of physical and sexual abuse at residential schools.
During another mass, Forest talked about passing by a local church that had been vandalizing with the words, “save the children” and said he would like to scare those who vandalized with a shot gun blast and shoot them if they did not run.
“As I’m passing by, thoughts of anger. If I had a shotgun at night and I’d see them, I’d go, ‘Boom!’ just to scare them and if they don’t run away, I’ll shoot them,” said Forest.
The livestreams of services led by Forest were reported to the archdiocese and since then, the videos have been removed and the archdiocese has prohibited Forest from teaching preaching and teaching publicly.
“We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous peoples and, more specifically survivors of the Residential School system”, said Daniel Bahuaud, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.
Forest’s comments come at a time when the RCMP in Manitoba have publicly announced that they have been investigating the sexual abuse at Fort Alexander residential school for the past 11 years. The result of the investigation is said to be a large-scale probe of the residential school in Manitoba.