Hope for justice for Inuit abuse victims dies with presumed pedophile priest | Polarjournal
Accused of sexually abusing Inuit children, Joannès Rivoire died in France last week, putting an end to extradition requests from victims and Canadian authorities. Photo : Pixabay

The death last week in France of the priest accused of pedophilia, Joannès Rivoire, brings to an end three decades of legal proceedings. He had been accused since 1993 of having sexually abused Inuit children.

It has been almost thirty years since Canada requested his extradition and his victims and their families demanded justice. Without success. Father Joannès Rivoire, member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, died at the age of 93 on April 11 in a retirement home in Lyon, France. « We recognize that this news will be difficult for many to receive, especially for the survivors and their families who advocated for him to face justice in Canada, », declared Father Ken Thorson, head of the order of the Oblates of Marie-Immaculée Lacombe in a press release published the day after Rivoire’s death. “We sincerely regret that despite all their efforts, Rivoire never made himself available and will never face the charges that were laid against him.”

In 1959, the priest was sent to Nunavut to teach catechism and French. After more than thirty years living in the Nunavut Inuit communities of Naujaat, Arviat and Igloolik, Rivoire returned to France in a hurry, under the pretext of visiting his elderly and ailing parents. It was in January 1993. In the weeks following his departure, several complaints were lodged against him for sexual assaults committed against children between 1968 and 1970 in the village of Naujaat. Another complaint will be filed in 2021 for assaults committed between 1974 and 1979 in Arviat and Whale Cove. The alleged victims of Rivoire included both girls and boys and the youngest were only six years old at the time of the reported events.

In 1998, Canada issued a warrant for his arrest. No action was taken and the mandate will be lifted in 2017. But in 2022, the Canadian authorities issued a new arrest warrant and requested the priest’s extradition to stand trial in Canada. But France refuses to extradite its citizens, and sexual crimes against children are subject to a statute of limitations, unlike in Canada, where they can be prosecuted without time limit. A situation that ultimately benefited Rivoire. To this day, no legal action has been taken against him for his actions in Nunavut.

Missionaries and priests were sent to Indigenous populations of the Far North to christianize them. Often, they would also teach the children and provide some medical care to the locals. Endowed with great authority and a wealth of knowledge that could be of real use to the Inuit, priests had a certain influence within these communities. Photo: Canadian Museum of History / Joseph Dewey Soper, via Wikimedia Commons

But the story doesn’t end there. In September 2022, a delegation including the priest’s victims, their family members and the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), a representative organization of the Inuit of Nunavut, Aluki Kotierk, travels to Lyon to meet Rivoire. The meeting was intended to confront the priest and persuade him to surrender to the Canadian authorities. To no avail. “I looked the devil in the eye.”, said Tanya Tungilik, whose father, Marius, allegedly sexually assaulted by Rivoire, sank into alcohol and died prematurely at the age of 55.

The delegation also made contact with Oblate officials, French President Emmanuel Macron, then Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and the Minister of Justice. Unfortunately, no official action has been taken to obtain the priest’s extradition or bring him to justice.

The priest’s actions were not punished by the Oblates either, despite direct intervention to Pope Francis by Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), an organization representing the Inuit of Canada. It was in March 2022, during an official visit to the Vatican, and Obed had asked the head of the Church to intervene personally to order Rivoire to go to Canada to stand trial or, failing that, to intervene with the French authorities to obtain the priest’s extradition. But neither the Pope nor Oblate officials, who say they also pressured Rivoire to return to Canada, were successful. The priest refused to give himself up to authorities, denying the charges against him.

Eventually, steps were taken by the Oblate order to exclude Rivoire from the Oblate community in France. A symbolic measure in the form of a defrocking begun in 2022 against a man already in his nineties. But here again, Rivoire got away with it: in February 2024, Rome’s leaders voted against his dismissal, arguing that the priest’s state of health would not allow him to make the trip to Canada in any case. A poor argument for a measure that would have brought some semblance of justice to the case.

Mirjana Binggeli, Polar Journal AG

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