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Priest charged in alleged sexual assault of 8-year-old girl on Manitoba First Nation

WARNING: Some of the details in this article are graphic

Manitoba RCMP have arrested a priest from a First Nation community who is accused of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl. Mounties say there may be more victims.

Superintendent Scott McMurchy with the Manitoba RCMP said on May 27, an 8-year-old girl from Little Grand Rapids was alone with the local Roman Catholic priest at the church in the community.

"She was helping him clean the church when he touched her inappropriately," McMurchy said. "She said, and told our investigators, that when she tried to leave, he forced her to remain in the building."

McMurchy said the young girl was able to get free and ran home and told her mother what had happened.

RCMP officers started an investigation and subsequently arrested the priest.

Arul Savari, 48, has been charged with sexual assault, sexual interference, sexual exploitation of a young person, luring a child and forcible confinement. He remains in custody.

The charges against him have not been proven in court.

"We believe that other children may have been harmed in a similar way," McMurchy said, adding Savari provided religious services in Pauingassi First Nation. "So that community too may have victims."

He said investigators have identified more children as potential victims and are asking any others to come forward.

McMurchy said Savari came to Canada six years ago and has been working in Little Grand Rapids during that time under the authority of the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface. According to the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface website, Savari is the priest at the St. John the Evangelist in Little Grand Rapids.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface told CTV News the Archdiocese has suspended Savari from all ministerial activity and has forbidden him to have anything to do with former parishioners and children.

"Every single abuse case involving a minor, no matter when it took place, is wrong. Each time the heinous crime of sexual abuse is reported, we must listen attentively and respond compassionately to those who have been victimized and hurt, particularly if the abuser is connected in any way with our Church," a written statement from the organization reads.

"Every time sexual abuse is reported, all victims of such abuse, as well as their families and communities, are hurt again. The Archdiocese of Saint Boniface stands in solidarity with all victims of sexual abuse."

The spokesperson said the Archdiocese will cooperate fully with the RCMP investigation and will do all it can to help the victim who came forward and any others who speak out.

INCIDENT TRIGGERING TO RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL SURVIVORS, INDIGENOUS LEADERS SAY

A statement from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the incident impacts the entire community, saying it is triggering to residential school survivors.

“This betrayal and trauma jeopardize their ability to feel safe, to trust others again, and can lead to self-blame for the abuse they suffered, and the impact of this abuse can have long-lasting effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in the statement.

Merrick is calling on the Roman Catholic church to apologize to people in Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nation.

“My prayers are with her and all First Nations citizens affected by this tragedy.”

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization said it is devastated to learn of the assault. Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a statement that he stands with the victim, saying he commends her bravery for sharing what happened.

“I also encourage any other children, youth, or adults who have been harmed by this priest or any others to come forward to share your truths,” Daniels said. "Let us remember that all children are sacred. It is essential we build a safer society for First Nations children.”

Karyn kibsey, the senior manager of education and training with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection is encouraging parents to talk about safety with organizations their children belong to. She said children are most often victimized by people they know.

"It can be very difficult to restore a sense of safety after this has happened,” Kibsey said. "Having these conversations every day with our kids about safety is critically important."

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is asking parents to talk to their children about boundaries, unsafe secrets, and a sense of safety to help protect them.

Resources are available for survivors of sexual assault in Manitoba. Any survivor can call the Klinic's 24/7 sexual assault crisis line at (204) 786-8631 or 1-888-292-7565. Additional resources are available online. 

-with files from CTV's Taylor Brock

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