Inuit group ‘implore’ France to extradite priest accused of child sex abuse

RFI - Radio France Internationale [Paris, France]

September 12, 2022

By Alison Hird with RFI

A group of Canadian Inuit have come to France to push for the extradition of a retired French priest accused of sexually abusing several Inuit children when he worked as a missionary in the north of Canada more than 40 years ago.

The five-person delegation from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (NTI) head to the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday to argue the extradition of Johannes Rivoire – a former Roman Catholic priest who lives at an Oblates nursing home in the southern city of Lyon.

Rivoire holds French and Canadian citizenship and Canada requested his extradition last month.

The priest, now aged 93, served with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the remote Arctic communities of Igloolik, Naujaat and Arviat between 1960 and 1992.

He was accused of sexually abusing boys and girls during that time.

Rivoire left Canada for France in 1993 and denies the allegations.

Canadian police laid three sex-related charges against Rivoire in 1998, but he had already left for France.

The country’s Justice Department dropped the charges in 2017 concluding there was little chance of conviction given he had left Canada.

However in February this year, Canadian police laid another charge against him for alleged sexual assault of a girl between 1974 and 1979.

Lundi, une délégation #Inuit vient en France (Paris puis Lyon) au sujet du Père Johannes #Rivoire, accusé d’abus sexuels dans le Grand Nord (années 60 et 70) et sur lequel nous avions mené l’enquête en juin avec @ASillieres @Le_Progres @EBRApresse #Thread— Xavier Frère (@xavier_frere) September 10, 2022

‘Not above the law’

NTI want Rivoire to stand trial in Canada.

“For 22 of the past 26 years, Rivoire has been a fugitive wanted in Canada for prosecution,” NTI president Aluki Kotierk said in a statement before arriving in France on Monday.

“During this time, Rivoire has been under the care and protection of the Oblates in France to avoid negative publicity and to protect the reputation of Roman Catholics. The church and its priests are not above the law.”

In July, Pope Francis visited Canada to apologise for the church’s role in abusing Indigenous children at government residential schools.

During that visit, Canada’s Inuit leader, Natan Obed, asked Francis to use his influence to obtain the priest’s return.

Lifelong suffering

Steve Mapsalak met Johannes Rivoire when he was 13 and says he was one of the priest’s victims but struggles to talk about it.

“I’m a survivor, I’ve been suffering for years. What father Rivoire did was very, very wrong,” he said during a press conference on Monday in Paris.

“I thought I was his only victim but there are more. We all need to be healed and for that to happen, he has to face justice.”

Another alleged victim, Marius Tungilik, never recovered from the abuse he suffered as a boy in what is now the northern territory of Nunavut.

He sombered into alcoholism and died by suicide in 2012, aged 55.

His daughter Tanya Tungilik, insists Rivoire must face trial in Canada.

“It tortured him all his life to not get justice and we as a family too,” she said. “Nazi war criminals over the age of 90 have been tried. Age doesn’t count when you have committed atrocious crimes.”

No obligation to extradite

Rivoire cannot be tried in France because the time-limit for prosecution has expired.

And while Canada has made a request for extradition, a treaty between the two countries states that neither country is bound to extradite its own nationals.

Father Vincent Gruber, who leads France’s Oblates, has said the Oblates want Rivoire to answer the charges. 

The demand for extradition is backed by Aurelien Taché, a former member of Macron’s LREM party, and now an MP with the leftwing Nupes coalition.

‘So long ago’

The former priest denies any wrong-doing.

“I’ve never done anything that they are saying,” he said in an interview with APTN News in July. “I can’t prove it. It was so long ago, so long ago.”

He also confirmed he would not return to Canada.

But Inuit representatives hope public pressure will help sway the Ministry of Justice to order Rivoire’s extradition. They argue that since the Pope’s visit to Canada and the “need to address reconciliation with Indigenous people”, times have changed.

“I think the time is ripe for action to show that reconciliation and making things right with Indigenous peoples really is something that a state nation wants to achieve,” NTI president Aluki Kotierk told RFI.

“We’re imploring the French public to put pressure on the French government so they can make an expedited decision and have him extradited to Canada.”

After Tuesday’s meeting at the Ministry of Justice, the delegation travels to Lyon on Wednesday to meet church officials and, they hope, Rivoire himself though he has turned down their request.