NNSL Media [Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada]
July 19, 2021
By Blair McBride
Anger describes how Richard Hardy felt when he heard the news of unmarked graves discovered at former residential school sites over the past two months.
“But it wasn’t a surprise. I think everyone has known for a few decades now. My mother went to residential school in Fort Providence in the 1920s. She talked about students dying,” Hardy said over the phone from his home in Nanoose Bay, B.C.
Born and raised in Tulita, Hardy, who is Metis, worked as a lawyer in the NWT from the 1980s until the 2000s. Now retired, he moved to B.C. in 2006 and is working on a book about his traumatic experiences.
He’s also a residential school survivor, having attended Grollier Hall in Inuvik from 1959 until 1963. The school was operated by the Catholic Church.
Though Hardy’s experiences at Grollier Hall were traumatic, they fit into a larger and ominous pattern that involved a now-deceased man who worked at the hall and was convicted of sexual abuse. Hardy was one of Houston’s victims.
Martin Houston worked as a supervisor at Grollier in the early 1960s. In August 2004, at a trial in Yellowknife, he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse charges connected to his tenure at Grollier, NNSL reported at the time. Three other former supervisors – Paul Leroux, Joseph Jean Louis Comeau and George Maczynski – were also charged and convicted for sexual crimes committed at Grollier Hall in the 1960s and 1970s.
Houston was sentenced to three years probation and was ordered to stay away from children under 18, unless accompanied by an adult. That wasn’t the first time Houston faced justice for his actions with children.
In 1962, he was arrested in Ottawa after driving across Canada with a student from Grollier Hall and charged with possession of obscene material. Following an investigation, Houston pleaded guilty to 10 sexual assault charges and was labelled a dangerous offender. He served nine years in a federal penitentiary before he was released on parole.
In 1975, while living in Selkirk, Man., he was convicted of gross indecency and put on probation for two years.
Studying to become a priest
In a surreal turn of events, Houston entered a Catholic seminary in the mid-1980s and was ordained as a priest in 1990.
According to Houston’s obituary, published in the Winnipeg Free Press after his death in 2010, he studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College in Edmonton.
St. Joseph spokesperson Andrew Ehrkamp denied that Houston graduated from Newman and didn’t directly respond to questions as to whether he graduated from St. Joseph.
“I can’t comment on reporting in other media,” Ehrkamp said.
However, he said the seminary in 2001-2002 began including criminal record checks in its application process for prospective students. Among other documents required in the application, candidates must submit a letter of acceptance by their bishop, a reference letter from their pastor and a psychological report.
Once enrolled at St. Joseph’s, seminarians must join Called to Protect, a five-step seminar program adopted in 2010 to help prevent abuse. Ehrkamp estimates about 10,000 people have participated in Called to Protect.
Unclear why Houston ordained
Houston was ordained by archbishop Antoine Hacault into the Archidiocese of St. Boniface at Notre Dame du Laus Church in Powerview, Man. in 1990.
When his past was made public several years later, he was “suspended from all further ministry” in 2002, stated Daniel Bahuaud, communications coordinator for the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.
He left the ministry but continued living in the St. Antoine residence for priests in St. Boniface.
At his trial in 2003, several former parishioners and even the archbishop of St. Boniface Emilius Goulet sent in letters of support praising Houston’s volunteer work with the community.
Bahuaud said that the archdiocese does “not have information as to why bishop Hacault ordained this man.”
Bahuaud outlined numerous measures that St. Boniface has introduced to verify the criminal history of employment applicants, volunteers and priests, including background checks overseen by the RCMP and the City of Winnipeg Police Force. There’s also a 13-page Diocesan Code of Conduct to sign and a separate 31-page document, titled the Diocesan Protocol for the Protection of Children, Youths and Vulnerable Adults.
“Striving to fully implement as much as possible our protocol and the code of conduct (and constantly fine tuning these documents), we are hopeful that situations like the ordination of Martin Houston will never happen in the future,” Bahuaud said.
Too little, too late
Hardy isn’t surprised that Houston was ordained even after his conviction and imprisonment for sexual crimes.
“At one time I was a very sincere, devout Catholic but I’ve since come to see the Catholic Church as a very corrupt institution,” he said.
He recalls attending a preliminary hearing for Houston in Inuvik in 1962. He and five other 15-year-old boys were witnesses for the prosecution.
“We had absolutely no support from the church at all. We were made to feel as if it was our fault. The only thing we were told by a priest was to pray for Martin Houston. Nobody said, ‘This isn’t your fault,’ or, ‘We’ll make sure this never happens again.’”
Hardy is unmoved at hearing about the safeguards that the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and St. Joseph Seminary have put in place in the years following Houston’s tenure.
“Too little, too late,” he said. “Abuse in Catholic churches around the world is continuing to this day. It’s not just an NWT problem. The problem is the institution itself that has to be called to account. Houston was just a tool for the institution to do what he did. I believe that the institution knew what was going on and did nothing about it.”
Hardy is writing Mola Zha, a memoir of his life that will include details of his time at Grollier Hall that haven’t yet been made public. He hopes the book will be published in November at the earliest so that a delegation of First Nations, Metis and Inuit due to travel to Rome to meet Pope Francis in December can read it and know more about what happened.
“After (Houston) was convicted and sent to prison (the church) continued hiring pedophiles to work with the boys,” he said. “You would think they would become stricter in who they put in charge of the boys, but no. After what happened with Martin Houston, how did they keep doing this?”
Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western… More by Blair McBride