‘Get at the truth’: Judge to study handling of sex allegations against Nunavut priest


Johannes Rivoire on the balcony of his nursing home in Lyon, France in 2022. Photo: APTN file

A retired Quebec judge is to lead a review into how the Oblates handled past allegations that a former priest sexually abused Inuit children in Nunavut.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France said Monday they have appointed former Superior Court justice Andre Denis to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission.

They said it will aim to understand how allegations against Johannes Rivoire were addressed within the Catholic congregation and to identify improvements to Oblate policies and governance to better protect minors and ensure accountability.

A final written report is to be made public no later than April 1, 2024.

“We recognize that … there’s no healing, there’s no reconciliation without truth. And so we’re trying to get at the truth of what happened,” said Rev. Ken Thorson with OMI Lacombe Canada.

Thorson said the commission meets a commitment the Oblates made to many Inuit, including reviewing the circumstances under which Rivoire left Canada.

He said he hopes the findings “contribute to the truth of the history” of Inuit communities, help with ongoing healing and provide an opportunity for the church to learn from the broken relationship with Indigenous communities across Canada.

Rivoire, who is now in his early 90s and lives in a retirement home in Lyon, France, was a priest in Nunavut from the 1960s until 1993 when he returned to his home country.

He has long faced allegations that he sexually abused Inuit children during his time in the territory. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group representing Nunavut Inuit, has claimed up to 60 children may have been abused. Rivoire has never faced the allegations in court and denies any wrongdoing.

A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998 but criminal charges related to the sexual abuse of children were stayed in 2017.

Following a fresh complaint in 2021, Rivoire was charged with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979.

A 10-member delegation of Nunavut Inuit travelled to France in September to seek his extradition and raise awareness of the case. They met with government and church officials as well as Rivoire.

The Public Prosecution of Canada announced in October that France had denied its request to extradite Rivoire and said it had exhausted all legal means to do so. It said it was working with RCMP for Interpol to issue a notice allowing for Rivoire to be arrested in any other country if he leaves France.

Thorson said the Oblates have urged Rivoire to return to Canada and face the charges. Oblate leadership in France said they decided to dismiss Rivoire because of his refusal to return to Canada.

Read More: 

‘No never’: French priest denies sex charge in Canada 

France says no to extraditing or prosecuting priest accused of sex crimes in Nunavut 

Rivoire is not the only former Oblate priest who has been accused of sexually abusing children in Nunavut and fled the country.

Eric Dejaeger, 76, was arrested in Kingston, Ont., last week on eight charges for the alleged sexual abuse of six people in Igloolik, Nvt., between 1978 and 1982. He is currently in custody in Iqaluit.

Dejaeger served part of a five-year sentence, beginning in 1990, for sexual offences against children in Baker Lake, Nvt., between 1982 and 1989.

Following his release, as RCMP was investigating his activities in Igloolik, he fled to his home country of Belgium. He was extradited back to Canada in 2011 over immigration violations.

In 2015, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for 32 offences he committed in Igloolik. He was granted statutory release in May 2022.

Thorson said the commission is to focus on allegations against Rivoire, as he has never been extradited to Canada.

“I hope and I expect that the lessons that we learn about governance, about what leadership did or didn’t do, will offer us lessons in regard to (Dejaeger) as well,” he said.

The retired judge is known for presiding over Canada’s first trial involving the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

It resulted in the 2009 conviction of Desire Munyaneza, a Rwandan citizen living in Canada, for his role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Munyaneza was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Denis was also hired by the Archdiocese of Montreal in 2020 to review allegations of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in nine Quebec Catholic dioceses dating back to 1940 and to find any people accused of abuse who were still serving the diocese.

His audit, released last year, identified, confirmed or well-founded allegations of sexual abuse involving 87 employees, less than five of whom were still working for the church.

“I appreciate the opportunity to lead this commission and expect that my findings will contribute to greater understanding of this history, while positioning the Oblates to set a higher standard of accountability and safety,” Denis said in a statement.

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