Residential school survivor encouraged by push to investigate former Nunavut priest
French Oblate priest Joannis Rivoire was once accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children
An Inuk residential school survivor and activist says he’s encouraged by recent calls to reinvestigate allegations of abuse by a notorious former Nunavut priest.
French Oblate priest Joannis Rivoire was once accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children in Nunavut communities in the 1960s, but the charges against him were stayed four years ago.
Earlier this month, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, backed by the NDP, again shone a spotlight on Rivoire when she called on the federal government to open a criminal probe into residential schools. During the press conference, she held up a photo of the priest and demanded the government investigate his alleged abuse.
Piita Irniq, former Commissioner of Nunavut, went to school at the Sir Joseph Bernier School in Chesterfield Inlet.
Irniq has long advocated for justice for other survivors of abuse and hopes the NDP’s latest call will once again draw attention to the case.
“One of [the victims] told me when they saw the picture of Rivoire on national television with Mumilaaq … they were a little bit more comforted that this thing is not totally forgotten,” he said.
“I am very hopeful that Rivoire will be recharged and taken to court and put to prison for life.”
According to Irniq’s research, Rivoire was ordained as a priest in 1962, at which point the Oblate order sent him to work in Naujaat. Rivoire later moved to Arviat.
Irniq says one of Rivoire’s alleged victims was his close friend Marius Tungilik, who died in 2012.
In 1997, the RCMP laid three charges against Rivoire in connection with incidents alleged to have occurred in Naujaat and Arviat between 1968 and 1970.
The following year, police issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for him.
At that point, the Oblate order had already sent Rivoire back to France, Irniq said, where he’s remained ever since.
Despite calls to have him extradited, the government eventually stayed his charges, and, according to Qaqqaq, he is now in his early 90s, living in an Oblate’s retirement home in Strasbourg, France.
“In 2017, an assessment was taken that there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction regarding the charges against Mr. Rivoire,” Public Prosecution Service of Canada spokesperson Nathalie Houle told Nunatsiaq News in a July 12 email.
The federal agency did not explain why there was no longer a prospect of conviction.
According to regulations under the Criminal Code, the prosecution would have had one year to recommence proceedings after a stay had been entered, and didn’t, the PPSC confirmed.
That means Rivoire’s alleged crimes would have to be reinvestigated and new charges laid.
For its part, the federal Justice Department said it could not confirm nor deny if an extradition request has ever been made to French officials, related to Rivoire’s previous charges.
“The Department of Justice acknowledges the anger and heartache expressed by Inuit regarding abuse committed against Inuit children,” said department spokesperson Ian McLeod in a July 9 email.
Irniq is still hopeful that advocates and Inuit organizations will keep the discussion alive.
“I’m hoping to see that the government either brings [Rivoire] back to Canada, or he could be tried in France,” he said.
“I’m pleased to see that our MP has taken this on,” he added. “So the door is a little bit open.”
On July 31, Qaqqaq is leading a march on the Justice Department in Ottawa.
“We need action,” reads a post on Qaqqaq’s website. “Enough is enough: abusers must be brought to justice for their crimes and Canada must be held accountable.”
Correction: This story has been updated from a previous version to correct information about one of Father Rivoire’s alleged victims.