Oblates ‘deeply saddened’ to hear France won’t extradite, prosecute Johannes Rivoire

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) [Toronto, Canada]

October 27, 2022

‘We recognize that this news is especially difficult for many Inuit people,’ said Father Ken Thorson

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe say they’re disappointed in France’s decision not to extradite a retired priest who faces charges of sexual assault in Canada.

On Wednesday, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said French authorities denied Canada’s extradition request for Johannes Rivoire, who formerly belonged to the religious group. It said France’s reasoning included that too much time has passed since the events in question, and that the country can’t extradite its own citizens.

In September, the Oblates said they were dismissing Rivoire from their congregation. That process is expected to take two to three months.

Father Ken Thorson, head of OMI Lacombe, the Oblate order headquartered in Ottawa, said Thursday in an email that his organization was “deeply saddened” by the news that French officials denied Canada’s extradition request.

“Further,” Thorson wrote, “we regret that these same authorities advised that they are unable to prosecute him.” 

Rivoire was charged this past February with one count of indecent assault on a female, who was child at the time of the alleged offence. It happened between January 1974 and December 1979.

Allegations against him date much further back, though — previous charges against him had been outstanding for years but were stayed in 2017.

People in Nunavut have spent nearly two decades pushing for Rivoire to be extradited.

An Inuit delegation travelled to France in September to implore French officials to grant Canada’s extradition request. They also confronted the retired priest while there.

Thorson said the Oblates have continually called for Rivoire “to face his accusers.” They also previously expressed their support for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s extradition request. 

“We also support their commitment to working with the RCMP to issue a Red Notice, which would allow him to be arrested in another country,” Thorson said.

Though the Oblates said they can’t compel Rivoire to participate in a legal proceeding in Canada, Thorson said the French Oblate Province has also initiated disciplinary action against Rivoire for “disobedience of direct orders.” That action, he added, was most specifically for refusing to face justice in Canada.

“We recognize that this news is especially difficult for many Inuit people, including survivors and family members,” Thorson said.

“We wish to thank Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated for their direct advocacy to see Johannes Rivoire return to Canada and express sincere regret that we have been unable to convince him to do so.”

Thorson said the oblates “stand in solidarity with all survivors of clergy abuse” and that they are committed to support people on their healing journeys.

‘Deeply troubling’

On Wednesday, Tanya Tungilik — who was part of the delegation that went to France, and whose father Marius Tungilik had accused Rivoire of sexual abuse — told CBC that France’s decision was “a gut punch,” though not surprising.

She said she still hopes more people in Nunavut will come forward if they were abused, and added she wants to see the Oblates of Mary Immaculate face a lawsuit, as well as anyone who helped abusers.

Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., described the news was “deeply troubling” in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“It’s difficult to fathom why France continues to harbour a fugitive and refuses to allow one of its citizens to face justice for crimes against children in Canada,” Kotierk stated.

She described France’s decision as short-sighted.

In a tweet Wednesday, federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said it was “heartbreaking to see this grave injustice continue.”

Miller added that the federal government is working with the RCMP to have Interpol issue a notice that would allow Rivoire to be arrested in any other country.

“Therefore, prosecution in Canada remains possible if Johannes Rivoire leaves France,” he wrote.

Nunavummiut who need to talk can call the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline at 1-800-265-3333 and visit http://nunavuthelpline.ca.

Families and children can also call the child welfare line, at 1-844-392-4453 (FW CHILD).

To report an abuse in your community, contact the RCMP or a community social service worker. 

Written by Amy Tucker with files from The Canadian PressCBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices|About CBC News