Chasing ‘Ataata’ Rivoire: The short, medium and long story

Nunavut Inuit confront wanted Oblate in France after years of inaction in Canada

Joannes Rivoire

The airplane seat for Joannes Rivoire made the trip back to Montreal without him. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN


Right up to the last minute of boarding, members of an Inuit delegation from Nunavut kept an eye out for Joannes Rivoire at the Lyon airport in France.

They were hopeful the wanted Oblate would surprise them. Again.

After all, he’d shocked them halfway through their Sept. 12-15 trip to lobby for his extradition to Canada, by turning up at a meeting with the Oblates to face members of the delegation, who say he sexually abused children during his 30-year term as a missionary.

The 91-year-old denied the allegations.

And he didn’t show up at the airport either.

Leaving the ticket they bought him unused, and seat 18A empty for the flight back to Montreal.

The story in 100 words

What happened in Lyon is not the end of the story.

It is another chapter in a complicated saga that involves Canada’s residential school system, the Catholic Church and colonialism.

Kilikvak Kabloona, CEO of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., helped lead the delegation.

She says the residential school system is a French problem.

“The Oblates are an order that started in France, they are a Roman Catholic order, and they operated most of the residential schools in Canada.

“The Oblates in Canada recognize the severity of the history. (But) in France…people don’t understand that residential school traumas were inflicted by French nationals.”

The story in 300 words

Joannes Pierre Marius Rivoire became a priest at the age of 28. He joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and went to the Arctic.

He served as a church priest in three isolated communities from 1963 to 1993. He was known as Ataata, which means father in Inuktitut, Rivoire.

Near the end of his time in Nunavut, five Inuit alleged he sexually abused them.

The RCMP laid six criminal charges – five in 1998 and the sixth in 2021.

The story of Inuit chasing Oblate Joannes Rivoire in France dominated local media. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN

The first offences were alleged to have occurred between 1968 and 1970. Rivoire was charged with:

  •  1 count of indecent assault on three different victims;
  • 2 counts of having sexual intercourse with a female who was not his wife and was under the age of 14.

However, he was never arrested.

That’s because he left Nunavut in 1993 – some say he received a tip about the police investigation – before the charges were laid in 1998.

The RCMP have not explained why they charged Rivoire after he left the country.

They issued a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest.

However, the government of Canada says it never asked France to extradite Rivoire because France doesn’t extradite its citizens.

That was one of the reasons it did not proceed with (or stayed in 2017) the first set of charges. Along with making note of Rivoire’s age.

The delegation of Inuit from Nunavut travelled 4,400 km each way. Graphic: Jesse Andrushko


Three members of the delegation are connected to the first set of charges.

They are Steve Mapsalak and Tanya and Jesse Tungilik - children of the late Marius Tungilik, who was the first to make a complaint against Rivoire - along with Steve’s brother Marcel Mapsalak.

The sixth and single charge laid against Rivoire in 2021 came out of a complaint made by a woman who can’t be identified.

She alleged Rivoire regularly abused her from 1974 to 1979.

The story in 500 words

The woman, 51, wishes she could have travelled to France.

But her criminal charge supports Canada’s request to extradite the Oblate. And she doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

Mapsalak and Tanya Tungilik did confront Rivoire. In very different ways.

Joannes Rivoire
Joannes Rivoire at the computer in his room at a retirement home in Lyon, France. Photo: APTN file

Mapsalak says he told the priest about the shame he feels, and how he thought he was the only alleged victim. He reminded Rivoire about the building where the alleged abuse took place - even describing the exterior.

Tungilik say she addressed Rivoire quickly and loudly. She ended her rant by jumping up and shouting “F*** you!” before running out of the room.

“I didn’t give him a chance to speak,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. I cried and cried ugly tears.”

Both say they found the experience a relief. While others shake their heads.

“We are in awe of Steve, Tanya and Jesse for their courage travelling here to speak,” says Kabloona. “They have done so much to expose the truth and to seek justice.

“They’ve done far more than any of the institutions that are supposed to protect Inuit.”

Steve, in particular, has nothing to be embarrassed about, Kabloona says.

“He was a child. Adults are supposed to protect children not hurt them," she says. "The adult with the most authority in his community was his (alleged) abuser.”

At the time there were no police officers in Steve’s community.


READ MORE:

'No, never'; French priest denies sex charge in Canada

Canada missed chance to have priest tried in France, says lawyer

'I never like Sundays': Priest's accuser says she was 6 when abuse began


The delegation accuses the Oblates of hiding and protecting their Catholic brother.

But the order denies paying for Rivoire’s lawyer or his care in an expensive Lyon retirement home. Spokesperson Vincent Gruber says it plans to kick him out of the order.

Joannes Rivoire
Left: Aluki Kotierk, Steve Mapsalak, Tanya Tungilik and Jesse Tungilik at the Lyon Press Club. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN

“The Canadian government has allowed him to live (in France),” notes Kabloona. “The Oblates, the Roman Catholics, have allowed him to live (in France), with no consequences for his (alleged) actions.”

While Inuit followed the legal process, went to police, and trusted the justice system, she adds.

“It’s not acceptable for nothing to have come of those charges from both governments, from the Oblates, from the Catholic church. It continues to be a French problem. People can’t wash their hands of justice.”

The total number of Rivoire’s alleged victims remains unknown.

“In the past people have gone to the police and they haven’t been believed,” says Kabloona.

“The dates (of the alleged offences) might not be clear in their minds. I think that’s normal for children. One of the barriers has been language – he was known as Ataata Rivoire.”

The woman says she tried to file a complaint with the RCMP 10 times over 30 years before it was accepted.

“I go to church, I am a Catholic,” she says. “I don’t blame the church. I blame him.”

She says his advanced age should not be a deterrent to prosecution.

Some may see him as a vulnerable adult, but she says she was a vulnerable child when she was allegedly abused.

“It should work both ways,” she says.

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.

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