Kahnawake, Que. community to vote on final resting place for priest accused of sexual abuse

CTV Television Network [Toronto, Canada]

March 24, 2022

By Touria Izri, CTV News Montreal Videojournalist, & Daniel J. Rowe, CTVNewsMontreal.ca Digital Reporter

The Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on Montreal’s South Shore is going to the polls this weekend to decide what do to with the remains of Jesuit priest Father Leon Lajoie.

It’s an issue dividing many community members.

Lajoie was buried on the grounds of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the community 23 years ago.

Last year, allegations of sexual assault surfaced. Now, the community will decide via referendum whether the priest’s remains will remain on the territory.

“It’s a very important issue so please take the time to make your voice heard,” said Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Tonya Perron in a video message on Facebook.

King International Advisory Group identified three complainants who had come forward with allegations, however, KIAG noted that “as many as 20 individuals had come forward to members of a community protest group that had formed following the May 2021 Kamloops discovery [of a mass grave].”

However, none of the 17 additional members have come forward, the report reads, “nor have they been identified if they exist.”

Two alleged victims participated in the investigations.

In the end, the advisory group’s report reads that the investigation does “not currently support any allegation of childhood sexual abuse by Father Leon Lajoie.”

Community member Melissa Montour-Lazare represents the group demanding Lajoie be exhumed and removed and questions the report.

“It’s pure deception,” she said. “The victims weren’t given enough time, it was rushed and misleading.”

St. Xavier’s Church Committee wrote an open letter to the community that was distributed in the community’s local papers this week.

“We are not saying the allegations are false, just that we are having difficulty believing because our personal experiences and knowledge of Father Lajoie do not correspond with what is being alleged,” the letter reads. “Allegations should be treated seriously with a proper and meaningful investigation.”