It was a relief, says Tanya Tungilik, to face the man her late father says sexually abused him.
“I was able to see the monster himself,” she told a crowded news conference at the Lyon Press Club Thursday. “I looked evil in the eye.”
Steve Mapsalak, another member of the Nunavut Inuit delegation to France, said it was healing to meet the man he said sexually abused him as a pre-teen.
“I will be returning to Canada a little bit lighter,” he told reporters and politicians attending the event.
The delegation is here Sept. 12 to 15 to lobby for the extradition of 91-year-old Joannes Rivoire, who was a missionary in Nunavut from 1963 to 1993.
It alleges the Oblate sexually abused Inuit children during his time in the northern territory. He left Nunavut in 1993 before police charged him with five counts of indecently assaulting four Inuit children.
Rivoire denies the allegations.
The first person to lodge a criminal complaint against Rivoire was Tanya’s father, Marius Tungilik.
“I told him no matter when he would die, he would go to hell,” Tanya said of her one-on-one with Rivoire a day earlier after he surprised the delegation by agreeing to meet Wednesday.
“Then I walked out. I ran out. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.”
Tanya said she met the Oblate face to face because her father died before he could do it.
“I did it for him…,” she explained, “I did it for Inuit. For the other survivors out there.”
The delegation is sponsored by Nunavut Tungavik Inc. (NTI), which lobbies for the rights of Nunavut Inuit.
There is no statute of limitations on sex crimes in Canada, so NTI is encouraging more alleged victims of Rivoire to make a complaint to the RCMP in Nunavut. NTI feels Rivoire must face justice in Nunavut where Inuit can testify in their own language.
“He is alleged to have raped six-year-old Inuit children and his trial should be in Canada in Inuktitut,” said Kilikvak Kabloona, CEO of NTI, in a separate interview. “All of his known victims speak Inuktitut, our majority language.”
Kabloona said there is still a chance to have Rivoire tried in France.
“There is a small window of opportunity of one year for anyone in…Nunavut, who was under the age of 18 in 1993 when Rivoire left, to come forward to share their story,” she said.
“And that would allow the French government to try him in France.”
Kabloona explained the French statute of limitations is 30 years after a [victim] turns 18 for serious offences. And Rivoire left Nunavut in 1993 after serving as a church priest in three Arctic communities.
“This is a unique case; he has dual citizenship, he is a Canadian,” she added.
Also, Kabloona said NTI hasn’t given up on Rivoire being extradited to Canada.
The Inuit advocacy group has hired Lyon lawyer Nadia Debbache to investigate how to get Rivoire into a courtroom on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The five criminal charges against him were stayed by prosecutors in 2017. A new charge of indecent assault was laid in February 2022 after an Inuk woman alleged Rivoire abused her between 1974 and 1979.
Rivoire denies that accusation as well.
Debbache told the news conference the 30-year statute of limitations on trying Rivoire in France has expired on the charge involving the woman.
However, she said there is a year remaining in the statute on sex crimes that may have occurred in 1993 – the year Rivoire left Nunavut 29 years ago.
Debbache said extradition is still a possibility despite a message to the contrary from the French ministry of justice earlier this week.
Canadian justice officials have confirmed they’ve asked France, with whom they have an extradition treaty, to return Rivoire to Canada.
The delegation was devastated when senior officials they met with earlier in the trip said the French constitution protects a French law preventing French nationals from being extradited to face trial outside its borders.
But Debbache said that is not the case.
“The ministry had told us that the French constitution prohibited the extradition of a French person,” she explained.
“I have asked the government to stop this practice of refusing extradition because it concerns a Frenchman.”
Debbache clarified that refusing to extradite nationals is a provision of French law and within the power of the executive of the government.
Tanya’s brother, Jesse Tungilik, said Inuit have been battling oppressive systems and institutions like the French bureaucracy since the beginning of colonialism.
“Our family has been fighting for justice for decades,” he told the crowd.
“Because he is a priest and he is a French citizen…is enough to protect him from justice? All we want is for him to face his accusers in court.
“Why is this so much to ask for?”
Jesse said he declined to meet with Rivoire in person Wednesday. Instead, he said in an interview he prefers to process his feelings around his father’s trauma through art.
He created a striking sculpture called the Spirit of Intergenerational Trauma that he said is on its way to be exhibited in France at a yet-to-be-decided venue. It is made of animal bones and materials native to Nunavut.
“I don’t expect an endpoint for this (trauma I live with),” he said after the news conference.
“This is something that I have to continue to work on.”
Meanwhile, the Oblates have decided to kick Rivoire out of their order.
Fr. Vincent Gruber, the head of the organization in France, said he began the disciplinary process this week that should take about three months.
The France-based Oblates of Mary Immaculate is an order of male missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to much of Canada, first arriving in Montreal in 1841.
The Oblates said they have urged Rivoire to turn himself in and face his accusers in court but he has refused. The priest told APTN News in an interview in July that he will not return to Canada.
Still, the delegation remains hopeful.
“We have let him know that he can choose on his own, and that we have a ticket for him, and that he can travel back with us,” said Aluki Kotierk, president of NTI.
“I don’t expect that he will” but he surprised the delegation by meeting with them on Wednesday, Kotierk added.
Meanwhile, APTN has yet to hear back from the French justice ministry to its numerous requests for comment on Canada’s request for Rivoire’s extradition.