NTI presses Ottawa to take action against former Nunavut priest
‘Nunavut Inuit consider this lack of any response by the Government of Canada to be profoundly disrespectful,’ says NTI president Aluki Kotierk
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says it’s looking at ways to help Inuit victims revive charges of abuse against a former Nunavut priest.
NTI president Aluki Kotierk penned a letter to federal Justice Minister David Lametti earlier this month, asking the minister to take action on the file of Rev. Johannes Rivoire, a French Roman Catholic priest who worked in Nunavut in the 1960s.
Rivoire was once accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children, but the charges against him were stayed four years ago.
With the recent locating of burial grounds on the sites of former residential schools across the country, there have been calls to bring the churches and religious leaders who ran the schools to justice.
“For many years Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. 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 … by Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest, at the Sir Joseph Bernier School (Turquetil Hall) in Chesterfield Inlet,” Kotierk wrote in the July 7 letter to Minister Lametti, obtained by Nunatsiaq News.
“Canada’s continued disrespect for Inuit who have been trying for decades to seek justice in this matter must stop.”
The letter was sent to the minister a day before the NDP, led by Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, made its own call for the government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate crimes that were committed against Indigenous people at residential schools, and their alleged perpetrators.
Kotierk suggested that Ottawa could revive the charges against Rivoire through new evidence, available through previous testimony given by people who have since died, as well as testimony from living victims of his alleged abuse.
“NTI is itself considering legal options to assist other victims to ensure that their evidence is properly considered, if they are willing to pursue charges,” she wrote in the letter.
The charges against Rivoire were stayed in 2017, when the Public Prosecution Service of Canada found “there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction” against Rivoire.
Kotierk also pressed Canada to push for the extradition of Rivoire from France, where the 90-year-old retired priest is said to be living.
If France refuses to extradite Rivoire, Canada should move to have him prosecuted there, she said.
There is an urgency to act, Kotierk said, as many of Rivoire’s victims are aging or have already died.
This is not the first time NTI has approached the federal Justice Department to move on Rivoire’s file.
Kotierk wrote a letter in March 2017 to then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould asking the Libreral government to execute the 2014 arrest warrant for Rivoire.
In July 2019, Kotierk wrote to the Justice Department again to ask why charges against Rivoire were stayed.
Kotierk said the department did not respond to either letters.
She said both Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and his predecessor, former premier Paul Quassa, also wrote to the federal government asking for action on Rivoire’s alleged abuses and did not hear back.
“I cannot emphasize strongly enough how deeply Nunavut Inuit consider this lack of any response by the Government of Canada to be profoundly disrespectful,” Kotierk wrote.
“The lack of acknowledgement of that correspondence meant to address these concerns about the historic horrific abuse of Nunavummiut is inappropriate and contrary to the principles of reconciliation.”
Neither NTI nor the Justice Department responded to Nunatsiaq News’ requests for comment.