Inuit who say they’re victims of Catholic priest must come forward: Federal justice minister

Oblate priest Johannes Rivoire is living in a Catholic retreat in France

Justice Minister David Lametti announced funding for counselling for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Photo: APTN file


The federal justice minister says the push to prosecute an aging Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing children in Nunavut is still alive.

But alleged victims of Fr. Joannis Rivoire need to come forward and share their stories again, said David Lametti.

That’s because original evidence used to lay three sex-related charges in 1998 that were stayed against Rivoire in 2017 no longer applies.

“There were previous accusations that were made – those proceedings were stayed,” Lametti said in an interview with Host Brett Forester of APTN’s Nation to Nation.

“There’s nothing I can do once those proceedings are stayed but we are hoping that perhaps other survivors will come forward.”

Left Canada 

Rivoire left Canada in 1993 before being charged. He is now believed to be in his 90s and living in a Catholic retirement home.

Canada stayed the criminal charges citing lack of co-operation from France, which does not extradite French nationals.

Lametti said if there is sufficient evidence to lay new criminal charges, Canada would approach France.

“We’re working with Inuit leadership who are encouraging other survivors to come forward. We would need a sufficient body of evidence for a prosecutor to say, ‘We need to go ahead with the charges,'” he said.

“It would be a matter of convincing the French – if we got to that point – to extradite or to provide them with the evidence for them to prosecute in France.”

Inuit leaders

The minister did not say which Inuit leaders the government was working with nor did his office share that information in a follow-up email with APTN News.

Peter Irniq, an Inuit elder now living in Ottawa, has been lobbying for more than a decade for Rivoire to face trial in Canada.

He said he knows of at least five alleged victims of the former Catholic priest, who served as an Oblate in Naujaat (Repulse Bay) and Arviat in the 1960s and ‘70s, before moving to other communities.

Irniq said one woman told him she was only six years old when Rivoire allegedly sexually abused her.

Irniq is unsure whether they would give their evidence again.

Some victims

“I think some victims of Rivoire have given up,” Irniq said in a telephone interview.

“They are very traumatized [and some are] in counselling.”

Irniq said he was “disappointed” to hear the justice minister put pressure on alleged victims to bring the priest to court.

“I know that he was already charged, and charges were stayed without any explanation from the government.”

The Inuit advocacy group Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) is also looking at legal options like using posthumous testimony and having [Rivoire] tried in France.

NTI

“For many years, NTI 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,” NTI president Aluki Kotierk said in a letter to Lametti obtained by APTN News.

“Canada’s continued disrespect for Inuit who have been trying for decades to seek justice in this matter must stop.”

In a statement to APTN, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said a 2017 assessment concluded “there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction regarding the charges” and “continuing the prosecution was no longer in the public interest.”

But Irniq said charging Rivoire and putting him on trial would encourage alleged victims to come forward.

“I spoke to one of the survivors quite some time ago and his statement to me was, ‘Well, if he’s charged then I will speak.’”

International law

Robert Currie, a professor teaching international law and international criminal law at Dalhouse University’s Schulich School of Law in Halifax, confirmed France doesn’t extradite its citizens.

“So they would have to convince France to extradite him here, which would be unlikely, or they have to get the French to prosecute him there, which is absolutely possible,” Currie said in a telephone interview.

“Because France will prosecute French citizens for whatever they do, wherever they do it in the world. In order to do that, France would need more evidence.”

However, France does have a statute of limitations on crimes, including crimes of sexual assault.

When asked about the statute, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada told APTN: “The PPSC is a prosecution service and cannot speak to international affairs.”

Online Journalist / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.