OTTAWA — Canada’s decision to stay charges against a priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children and believed to be in France is traumatizing victims all over again, Arctic leaders say.
“It just adds anger and frustration with a lot of people,” said Peter Irniq, an Inuit elder who has worked for years to have Oblate priest Johannes Rivoire returned to face a Canadian court. “It retraumatizes the victims.”
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada confirmed Tuesday that sex abuse charges against Rivoire won’t be going ahead. The priest, in his late 80s, had been facing at least three charges relating to his time in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat in the 1960s.
An arrest warrant was issued for Rivoire in 1998. But by that time, he had been in France for five years.
Prosecution service spokeswoman Nathalie Houle said the charges were stayed in 2017.
“France’s approach to extradition was considered as part of the decision-making process,” she said in an email. “France will not extradite someone who is a citizen and was a citizen at the time of the alleged offence.”
The news was a blow to Irniq, who blames his friend Marius Tungilik’s suicide on Rivoire. Tungilik was an Inuit leader who said he was abused by the priest.
“Marius could not forget Rivoire,” Irniq said.
Irniq said there are at least five people still alive who say Rivoire abused them. He had mustered support for Rivoire’s return from former Nunavut premier Paul Quassa, Senator Dennis Patterson and MP Hunter Tootoo, as well as from Inuit leaders.
Former Arctic MP Jack Anawak, who was also a close friend of Tungilik’s, criticized the stay decision.
“His victims are still very much alive,” Anawak said. “It’s inexcusable that somebody who went through that much victimization of children should not face justice — in Canada or anywhere.”
Rivoire has never offered any kind of apology, said Anawak.
Houle said Rivoire’s age and health played no part in the decision. She pointed out that in 2015, Canada sentenced former Oblate Erik Dejaeger, then 67, to 19 years in jail for sex crimes committed between 1978 and 1982.
Dejaeger had been in Belgium but was returned to Canada over an immigration violation.
The Canadian Press has tried several times in the past to reach Oblate officials, both in Canada and abroad, to discuss Rivoire, but has never received a response.
In 2013, Rivoire spoke briefly to The Canadian Press from a home that houses retired Oblates in Avignon, France. Asked if he would return to Canada to face charges, he said: “Maybe. I don’t know.”
Then 83, he said he was “not willing” to discuss the charges. The news agency has been unable to reconnect with the priest, who was seen in 2015 by a French news crew.
Although Canada has an extradition treaty with France, Justice Canada officials have never confirmed whether a request was made.
Irniq said Rivoire’s black legacy lives on.
“He’s done a lot of damage to Inuit,” he said. “He’s not going to have peace, Rivoire. No way.”
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter
The Canadian Press