APTN - Aboriginal Peoples Television Network [Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada]
September 9, 2021
By Kathleen Martens
Inuit organizations trying to find ways to bring Oblate priest back to Canada
[Photo above: Peter Irniq (left to right), Jack Anawak and Marius Tungilik. – Photo submitted]
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with the trauma of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
It may be too late for Marius Tungilik, but it’s not too late for other Inuit who allege they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest at residential school in Nunavut.
“I owe it to my friend, Marius, and the five other [alleged] victims,” said Inuit elder Peter Irniq.
Irniq has been lobbying for more than 10 years for Canada to prosecute retired priest Johannes Rivoire for suspected sexual abuse of children.
“The RC [Roman Catholic church] is under pressure,” Irniq said from his home in Ottawa. “The government can no longer ignore this.”
Rivoire, who is now believed to be in his 90s and living in France, was an Oblate priest who worked in several Arctic communities in the 1960s and ‘70s, including Sir Joseph Bernier School (Turquetil Hall) in Chesterfield Inlet.
Several adults accuse him of sexually interfering with them as young children, including Tungilik of Repulse Bay, who was 55 when he died by suicide in 2012.
“He is Father Rivoire’s [alleged] biggest victim,” Irniq said. “He never forgot about Rivoire.
“He was haunted by Rivoire. He drank and drank and drank. He was very much haunted by this devil priest.”
The RCMP in Nunavut laid three sex-related charges against Rivoire connected with his time in the isolated communities of Naujaat (Repulse Bay) and Arviat.
But he had already returned to France.
The Justice Department wouldn’t tell APTN News if Canada ever applied to extradite Rivoire to face trial.
“With regard to Father Johannes Rivoire, due to the confidential nature of state-to-state communications, the Department can neither confirm nor deny whether an extradition request has been made related to Father Johannes Rivoire to another country,” it said in a statement emailed to APTN.
Irniq said Rivoire was wanted on international arrest warrants until Canada stayed the charges against him in 2017, citing lack of cooperation from France.
“That was traumatizing [to] his [alleged] victims in Nunavut,” Irniq noted.
“They try Nazis for what happened to the Jews after the Second World War. Why not try the old priests?”
APTN asked the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to comment on Rivoire but it did not respond.
A spokesperson for Justice, which operates independently of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, confirmed charges against Rivoire have not been “reactivated” and there “is no current active prosecution.”
Irniq said he regularly speaks to the five known [alleged] victims and suspects there are many more.
“He has [allegedly] damaged and traumatized many youth in Nunavut…and on the matter of principle, he cannot be allowed to get away with his [allegedly] horrific crimes against Inuit youth.”
Tungilik and others were angry when the charges were stayed against Rivoire, Irniq said.
“They keep wondering what’s happening to Rivoire. They want to see him in prison.”
It upset Irniq, too, who is a survivor of residential school where he said he was physically abused on a regular basis.
“Age is not a defence,” he added. “It’s not an excuse either.
“Rivoire’s [alleged] victims have to start having healing from what happened.”
Jack Anawak was a long-time friend of Tungilik’s and a native of Repulse Bay. He is Irniq’s cousin and a fellow residential school survivor.
Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools used to assimilate Inuit, Métis and First Nation children into Euro-Canadian culture.
Anawak said when the three of them first started talking about sexual abuse by clergy in the territory, they suspected there were numerous offenders inside and outside former northern residential schools.
But only one priest in Nunavut has ever been prosecuted and convicted.
Eric Dejaeger, another Catholic priest, was found guilty on 32 of nearly 80 sex-related charges he faced involving Inuit children after he was deported from Belgium to stand trial in Canada.
Dejaeger was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2015 for the crimes that occurred in his Arctic mission in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“I understand that the Government of Canada may be looking at it [Rivoire’s] case again,” Anawak said in a telephone interview.
He said their fight was bolstered by support from outgoing Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and her NDP colleague Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay), who in July called for an investigation into crimes against Indigenous children at residential schools and held a rally on Parliament Hill.
“She is just continuing what we were trying to do – Peter and I and Marius and others – in trying to get Rivoire on trial,” Anawak said of the event in response to the findings of hundreds of unmarked graves outside former residential schools this summer.
Irniq, who spoke at the rally in Ottawa, said the Trudeau government has hired a lawyer to see if Rivoire “can be brought back to Canada – or charge him in France and try him over there.”
The advocacy group Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. [NTI], has also hired a lawyer “to look at legal options, such as using posthumous testimony and having [Rivoire] tried in France.”
It also sent a strongly worded letter to Justice Minister David Lametti in June, urging him to act.
“For many years, NTI and Inuit of Nunavut have been waiting for Canada to take action and speak with us about how Canada intends to address the horrific legacy of abuse of Inuit children, including rape, [allegedly] by Johannes Rivoire,” said the letter signed by NTI president Aluki Kotierk.
“Canada’s continued disrespect for Inuit who have been trying for decades to seek justice in this matter must stop.”
A spokesperson for Justice did not respond to an email from APTN asking about the letter.