There is more Canada could be doing to pursue an Oblate priest in France suspected of sexually abusing children in Nunavut, says a Dalhousie law professor who specializes in extradition.
Robert Currie says it’s ‘atrocious’ that criminal charges have been stayed against Johannes Rivoire, who worked in three Arctic communities in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“What’s atrocious is the federal government’s refusal to say anything about the case to give the alleged victims any indication that there’s even any interest in justice being done,” Currie tells APTN News.
The three sex-related charges laid against Rivoire in 1998 were stayed in 2019, citing a low chance of conviction.
“In 1994, the Department of Justice Canada confirmed with the RCMP that France does not extradite its nationals,” says Nathalie Houle, a spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
“No formal request for extradition was made in this file.”
Rivoire, now in his early 90s, is believed to be living in an Oblate facility in southern France. He left Nunavut in 1993 – five years before the charges were laid.
The France-based Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) are an order of male missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to much of Canada, first arriving in Montreal in 1841.
Their present leader, Rev. Ken Thorson, couldn’t be reached for comment but has spoken about the Oblates’ role in residential schools.
“For a long time, we were a part of the colonial effort – even if we wouldn’t have called it that, we were. And now we understand that our place is walking with the First Nations people as allies, as Christian brothers and sisters,” Thorson says in an article published on the OMI website.
“There’s a much greater focus on walking together – to learn with them who God is, who they are and how their culture and traditions shape their faith and practice.”
Thorson says the Oblates hope to continue their ministry to First Nations communities in western Canada and the North, noting their relationship with Indigenous peoples dates back more than 170 years.
Thorson says the order’s reconciliation efforts include in-depth psychological examinations for potential priests.
It was priests, nuns and administrators whom former students identified to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as perpetrators of serious sexual and physical abuse at the once national network of boarding schools that closed in 1997.
In Nunavut, five alleged victims filed sexual abuse complaints against Rivoire. The RCMP issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998.
While Currie confirms diplomatic communications between countries are privileged and can’t be revealed, he says France can prosecute its citizens for any crime they are accused of anywhere in the world.
“So when I say Canada could be doing something, Canada could be urging France to prosecute,” he says.
“They could be saying, ‘We have the evidence, we will send you the evidence, we will arrange for testimony, for witnesses; whatever you need France – we will help you.’”
He further suggests that Justice Minister David Lametti could be revealing publicly that Canada has “spoken with the government of France about this and we’re working on it, or they’re refusing.”
However, not saying anything makes it look like they aren’t doing anything, he adds.
Currie says the Justice Department’s International Assistance Group handles these types of cases, while the RCMP officially request the extradition.
The RCMP referred APTN’s questions to Justice.
Meanwhile, Currie says Rivoire is among a number of “disturbing cases” that show the country’s extradition act needs reform.
He says the present Act goes too far in accommodating foreign states at the expense of Canada’s public policy, such as in the case of Ottawa sociology professor Hassan Diab, who Canada sent to France on terrorism charges.
Currie agrees with the legal professionals criticizing Canada for extraditing “an innocent man” to France in a letter made public Tuesday.
In the letter, dozens of lawyers and other legal professionals call on the Liberal government to urge France to put an immediate end to what they call a continuing miscarriage of justice.
Currie also says Canada shouldn’t be cooperating with France when it won’t do the same.
“The missing piece for me is why won’t Canada urge our good (extradition) treaty partner, France, to prosecute and let us know what they’re doing?” he says in an interview.
“Particularly when reconciliation (with Indigenous Peoples) is on the front burner.”
Advocates for the alleged victims in Nunavut include Inuit elders and politicians.
Attempts to reach Nunavut Justice Minister George Hickes and Premier Joe Savikataaq were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., declined a request for an interview. She has sent numerous letters to Lametti demanding action on the Rivoire file, which she says in the letters have not been answered.
A spokesperson for Justice tells APTN they have received NTI’s letters.
Melissa Gruber referred APTN to the government’s website on extradition, where it states Canada isn’t obligated to extradite nationals either, but one state is obligated to consider prosecuting the accused for the crimes.
With files from The Canadian Press