NDP calls for criminal probe into residential schools

‘The map of Canada is covered in crime scenes,’ Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq holds a photo Thursday morning of French Oblate priest Joannis Rivoire, who is accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children who attended residential schools in Nunavut communities in the 1960s. The NDP is calling on the government to investigate Rivoire and other alleged perpetrators within the residential school system. (Screen grab courtesy of CPAC)

By Sarah Rogers

The federal New Democrats are calling on Ottawa to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential crimes committed against Indigenous people at residential schools, and their alleged perpetrators.

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and her fellow NDP MP Charlie Angus held a press conference on Parliament Hill Thursday to ask federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti to reach out to the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into a system they said “represents a crime against humanity.”

“The map of Canada is covered in crime scenes,” Qaqqaq said.

“We need a full and independent investigation that has the power to shine a light on every facet of this national crime, and has the power to bring perpetrators to justice,” Qaqqaq said.

“We have been saying this for generations, and it’s time for Canada to face the truth.”

The NDP’s demand comes after weeks of revelations about unmarked graves at residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., Cowessess, Sask., and other sites throughout the country.

The NDP is also asking for “a serious increase” in funding to do proper forensic investigations at former school sites, so bodies can be exhumed and returned to their families.

A spokesperson for the Minister of Justice told Nunatsiaq News that Lametti does not have the authority to launch such a criminal investigation, saying that would be up to the police.

“Minister [Lametti] has held frank and productive discussions with Indigenous leaders about the next steps the government needs to take to support Indigenous communities, particularly survivors and their families, following the horrific discovery of graves in Kamloops and Marieval,” said Chantalle Aubertin, press secretary to Lametti, in an email.

“We will consider all options that will allow the survivors, their communities and the country to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation.”

But Qaqqaq insists the justice minister does indeed have the authority to appoint a special prosecutor but chooses not to exercise it.

Qaqqaq said an investigation should extend beyond just residential schools to examine any institution that Indigenous people were forced to attend, providing the example of southern sanatoriums Inuit were sent to between the 1940s and 1960s to recover from tuberculosis.

“There are possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of Inuit [buried] outside of sanatoriums across the country,” she said.

During the press conference, Qaqqaq held the image of French Oblate priest Joannis Rivoire, who is accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children who attended residential schools in Nunavut communities in the 1960s.

In 1997, Rivoire was charged with sexual interference and sexual assault in connection with incidents alleged to have occurred in Naujaat and Arviat between 1968 and 1970.

The RCMP issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998, but CBC reported in 2019 that warrant had been stayed. It’s unclear if the government ever sought to have Rivoire extradited from France.

“Instead of facing justice for his crimes, Rivoire is living a luxurious life in a home for priests in Strasbourg, France, and the federal government is doing nothing about it,” Qaqqaq said.

“The abuse at his hands has caused generations of trauma,” she said. “The federal government and the church are responsible for the fact that people like Rivoire destroyed childhoods. And continues to destroy childhoods today.”

The NDP said Rivoire is just one of potentially thousands of perpetrators who abused Indigenous children through the residential school system, and any investigation must come with full access to documents and names.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the Catholic church to disclose documents related to potential crimes and unmarked burial sites at its residential schools, a demand religious orders in some provinces have agreed to.

Trudeau has also expressed a willingness to launch an investigation into residential schools but said Indigenous communities should lead that process.

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(36) Comments:

  1. Posted by Baffin on

    Ok I thought she left?
    Did she get a new job?

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    • Posted by Ned Flanders on

      Me too. LOL.
      I thought she was back at her home town working at the local fast food place.

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  2. Posted by ds on

    Ask Lametti to appoint a special prosecutor to go after the child molesters in Nunavut who are abusing children right now.

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  3. Posted by Old Timer on

    Here we go again 😲

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  4. Posted by Bravest amongst young people in Nunavut on

    Thank you for telling the truth.

    You rose among the ashes. This is what Nunavur needs. Brave young lady!

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  5. Posted by Special Prosecutor on

    How do you spell reconciliation?
    How about extending the mandate of that special prosecutor to include crimes against the Tuniit?

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  6. Posted by Iqaluit guy on

    Not a fan of Ms. Qaqqaq, but on this issue, I don’t disagree with her. If there are sexual predators still alive, they should be brought to justice, if that is the will of the victims. I emphasize “the will” because prosecuting would mean reliving the trauma, and there is no guarantee of conviction. Needless to say, if they’re guilty, they should be brought to justice.

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  7. Posted by Out of luck on

    As far as Rivoire is concerned, France does not extradite it’s citizens. Too bad because it would have been done years ago.

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  8. Posted by Rewind on

    The residential school investigations have been done already, and the settlements, many of them large were given out. (Settlements were so generous that everyone got one, even those who liked residential school, and were expanded to cover day school students, as they were annoyed at being left out.)

    If the Residential Schools are to be litigated again, then all the settlements should first be paid back, and the cases should go to a real trial, where the claimants are cross-examined and we can better determine if their stories are genuine or not. Is that what people really want? Because the settlements were based on people not really wanting to go to trial and have the truth of their claims examined.

    The greed of the grievance industry apparently knows no bounds.

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    • Posted by Alex on

      Don’t confuse criminal charges with the settlements to the victims……I don’t think I need to explain, but have a look at the holocausts and genocide and the reoperations paid to victims. Even though victims are paid, they still would go after and criminal charges for officers involved in the genocide process……you think because money was paid by a governing body who forced a group of people to genocide means that all those who committed crimes, especially in position of power, to minors are absolved of their crimes. Give your head a shake pal.

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      • Posted by No crimes against the dead on

        The people responsible for any allegd crimes would be dead. What point is there to have the government compensate for damages, and then engage to charge people who are dead and will not be able to defend themselves?

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        • Posted by Alex on

          In this article they pointed to one person who is alive…..there are many people who were alive in the 60s still alive today…..so they aren’t all dead.

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          • Posted by What do you propose on

            There is no evidence these Graves are from the 60s. The one person referred to is in a country that does not extradite, so what is the point?

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  9. Posted by Excellent Idea on

    I think that Mumillaaq and the NDP have come up with an excellent idea and I mean that sincerely. The announcement of unmarked graves at Cowessess has resulted in serious accusations being made that the residential school there was operated as a concentration camp whose purpose was to exterminate indigenous children. In the words of Mayor Bell, literally thousands of kids were killed at these schools. The media, to use the old expression, has eaten these claims up with a spoon, and we’ve all witnessed that over the past few weeks.

    What our country needs at this moment in our history is precisely to have an independent special prosecutor appointed with a team of investigators to go into these sensational claims in depth to determine what evidence, if any, exists to support them.
    If such a prosecutor was appointed, it would be nice in return if those who who have made the allegations of mass murder simply be quiet until the inquiry is complete. It would also be nice if they accepted any findings of the prosecutor that don’t support their theories of homicide. But,why am I sceptical that they would do so?

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    • Posted by Kenn Harper on

      So uninformed grand-standing Mayor Kenny Bell is your authority on this issue?

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      • Posted by Excellent idea on

        Kenn, I have to say that I’m disappointed in you. The not so subtle point to my comment was that we should get an independent prosecutor to debunk the incendiary and baseless claims made by those like Bell that thousands of children were killed. The opposite of citing him as an authority. Maybe I should have made it a little more obvious. Sorry you missed it.

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        • Posted by Kenn Harper on

          Yes, if that was your intent I missed it. It appeared to me as if you were viewing his comments as authoritative.

          • Posted by Excellent idea on

            Thanks Kenn!! I too read these comments quickly and will occasionally miss stuff.

  10. Posted by Stuck Record on

    More contrived drama from the one note showboating queen. If every child really mattered we’d tackle the child molesters who run rampant across Nunavut every single day.
    Is it election time yet?

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    • Posted by WB on

      If anyone is a stuck record, its the folks that have nothing but hate to spew for young Indigenous women.

      The criminals that caused the cycle of abuse in Nunavut need to be brought to justice. Do you honestly disagree with that? Is that how far your partisan hackery goes?

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      • Posted by Stuck Record on

        Stop blaming the current stomach churning epidemic of child molestation going on in Nunavut right now, every single day, right in front of our eyes and in every Nunavut community on colonialism and white people.

        To suggest it never happened before colonization is untrue and simply serves as cover for Nunavut’s total unwillingness to stand up for molested kids today who need our help and not our self serving excuses.

        Get the hell of Twitter and save the children. And get a new MP. Someone who cares more about people than her own melodrama show.

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  11. Posted by iThink on

    I agree with her on bringing justice to Joannis Rivoire, and any other living criminal. Though it appears the government has given up on the former and that is an absolute disgrace. The Church has much to answer for, and while it has succeeded in dodging responsibility, it has demonstrated beyond doubt its moral bankruptcy.

    The issue of the sanatoriums, n the other hand, seems like a different one to me. There are Inuit buried there, that’s not mysterious or surprising, yet I sense she wants to draw an equivalence between the victims of TB and the victims of Auschwitz.

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    • Posted by Kenn Harper on

      Inuit have thoroughly investigated, years ago, the issue of Inuit who died while in the south for TB treatment, Records have been scrutinized, graves have been found. Families have been provided funding to visit their relatives’ graves in the south. Books have been written. Monuments have been raised to commemorate their deaths. Miss Qaqqaq should know all this, and if she doesn’t, she could get the answers and the details from ITK. The patients were not killed; they died of their illnesses while taking treatment in the south, treatment which was not available in the north in those days, because of a lack of infrastructure (airstrips, hospitals, etc.) If Miss Qaqqaq does not know better, surely Charlie Angus does. Shame on him for fanning the flames of a non-issue.

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      • Posted by You sound insensitive, Mr. Harper on

        We have our grandfather buried in St. Hubert and have gone to visit his burial site on a few occasions, which doesn’t have any mark. We have never received any funding (not that we want any) and didn’t even know we could be eligible for our expenses to be covered.

        It’s still not enough and no closure even if books have been written and monuments set up. Explain all the other things we don’t know about, Ken Harper.

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      • Posted by The Old Trapper on

        Kenn Harper is amongst other things a historian who has done countless hours of research into history involving the Inuit. I see no reason to not believe what he has said. I don’t think that he was being insensitive, rather just stating the historical facts.

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        • Posted by Not so historian on

          His true colors coming out with his reply to Excellent Idea.

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    • Posted by Observer on

      And how do you (or she) propose that be done?

      The problem is the law in France. It essentially prohibits the extradition of French citizens, and the extradition treaty between Canada and France recognizes that (France isn’t the only country that has this rule). Unless you’re suggesting sending JTF2 over to France to kidnap him, there’s not a whole lot that can be done if France doesn’t decide to play ball and, quite frankly, they’re unlikely to do so. The United States has been trying for *35* years to get Roman Polanski, even with up to 75% of the French population (based on polling) who want him gone. So what makes people think that’s going to change now?

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      • Posted by iThink on

        This is a good question to ask and does seem to demand a coherent response.

        I don’t think it would be controversial to suggest that most of us probably share the moral intuition that Rivoire is a criminal and deserves to be extradited and, probably, convicted. That there is a disconnect between our laws / conventions and our ethics should not deter us from pursuing justice, even if, in reality, the chances of affecting immediate change on this issue seems remote (it is not, in reality, an impossibility). So, I would argue, we need to continue to pursue what is right for its own sake.

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  12. Posted by Bubba on

    Arviat strong!

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  13. Posted by Colin on

    They were not mass graves. They appear to have been individual graves and the tradition always was to place a wooden cross, which would disintegrate over time/.

    Prior to 1945 and widespread use of antibiotics, TB was the prime killer, far worse than covid. One infected person would spread it throughout a dormitory. It struck anyone, including George Orwell; Franz Kafka and presidential wife Eleanor Roosevelt.

    For all the horror stories, for which TRC had no verification process, there were also successes, notably the Catholic Grandin College in Fort Smith, NT. Residential schools graduated two federal cabinet ministers, at least three territorial premiers.

    Renowned Inuit thoracic surgeon Noah Carpenter, born on the trapline graduated from residential school in Inuvik in 1963, before progressive education and social promotion took hold. Graduate Douglas Cardinal was the architect for the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Sheila Watt-Cloutier wrote in her memoirs that the three years she spent at school at Churchill, Manitoba, were the happiest of her teenage years.

    Thomson Highway, Cree playwright, novelist and classical pianist, attended the Guy Hill School in northern Manitoba. Huffington Post quoted him as saying, “All we hear is the negative stuff; nobody’s interested in the positive, the joy in that school. Nine of the happiest years of my life, I spent at that school. . .

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    • Posted by Revisionism on

      But according to new articles out of NS, you’re not even allowed to suggest there was anything positive about the schools. The rhetoric is so powerful the NS gov’t removed the book that asked the students to think critically!
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      Agree with you. I imagine that there are thousands if not millions of unmarked Graves across Canada because markers deteriorate, lots of people died from diseases and conditions we forget about due to science curing them, and because it wasn’t that long ago that burying people anywhere was acceptable. I am so tired of the rhetoric about murders and killing when we all know that this is not a genocide like we are witnesses in China Today.

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  14. Posted by Keep pursuing it, Mumilaaq on

    Many of the students who went to Kuujjuaraapik Federal Day school were victims of the Principal. No one has filed criminal charges against him or the school.
    But we are living with the impact now, 3 or 4 generations later

    There was a Catholic priest in Puvirnituq who ruined many families as well.

    Mumilaaq is right on on asking for an investigation. We need closure.
    Even if we’re eligible for federal day school compensation , it doesn’t change anything

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    • Posted by Tell Me More on

      Who was the Principal at the federal day school in Kuujjuaraapik? What years?

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  15. Posted by Truth and Reconciliation on

    Isn’t what she’s talking about the Truth and Reconciliation act?

  16. Posted by Tulugaq on

    A number of the perpetrators were prosecuted during the 1990s and after but many of the others were dead at the time while the evidence for those that were still alive was insufficient for a criminal prosecution either because the charge was summary and the time limitation is 6 months or because the victim could not identify the perpetrator (they often didn’t use their real names in schools and the victim couldn’t identify the person on photo line ups). Crimes were committed but having a reasonable prospect of conviction in a criminal court where the evidence is “beyond a reasonable doubt” is another issue.

    As well, the Harper government refused to allow the TRC to compel witnesses like other TRC (in South Africa and Colombia) and while the issue has been very well documented by the Commission, very few if any perpetrator testified, which leaves the government’s side evidence mostly based on documents. Normally, a TRC would also provide for a lighter sentence to perpetrators that testify in order to get to the truth and put an end to the issue. Unfortunately, the federal government decided not to go that route which leaves the issue completely opened.

    In addition to the TRC report, the recovery of anonymous graves is the smoking gun confirming testimonies that indicated many children died in residential schools without anyone else, families and to some extent even government, knowing about it. The issue now is whether another criminal investigation would achieve reconciliation and justice and, at the international level, whether the Canadian state as a whole can be convicted of genocide.

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  17. Posted by Think About It on

    What most people would call abuse today, happened on a regular basis in regular schools in Canada. I’m not talking about sexual abuse, but the physical and physiological abuse. Straps, beatings, isolation, humiliation, were in the 60s and 70s regular happenings. I am sure that in the 20s and 30s kids had it much worse than we did.

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