Nunavut Inuit land in France, demand priest face justice

A delegation of Inuit is asking the French government to extradite Johannes Rivoire, a priest accused of sexually abusing children in Nunavut.

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From left, Jesse Tungilik, Tanya Tungilik and Steve Mapsalak speak at a press conference at the Paris Press Club on Monday, moments after getting off a plane in the French capital. The three are part of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s delegation to France to push the country to extradite former Nunavut priest Johannes Rivoire. (Emma Tranter / Nunatsiaq News)

After traveling more than 4,000 kilometers over three days, a group of Nunavut Inuit arrived in France to demand the return of a Roman Catholic priest who traveled that same distance when he left Canada 29 years ago.

Rev. Johannes Rivoire, 91, spent more than 30 years as a parish priest in Nunavut, mostly in Arviat and Naujaat, between 1960 and 1992. He was accused of sexually abusing boys and girls during that time, some as young as six years old.

In 1998, the RCMP laid three charges against Rivoire for one count of indecent assault against three boys and one count of sexual assault against a girl in Naujaat, between 1968 and 1970.

But Rivoire left Canada for France in 1993 and those charges were stayed in 2017 after prosecutors concluded there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction.

The group, which arrived in Paris Monday morning organized by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., includes Tanya and Jesse Tungilik, children of the late Marius Tungilik, one of those whom Rivoire was charged with abusing in 1998.

It also includes Steve Mapsalak, a former Nunavut MLA who Rivoire was also charged with abusing back then.

Those charges were never tried in court.

However, earlier in 2022, RCMP laid another charge against Rivoire for allegedly sexually abusing a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979.

The delegation that’s in France this week wants the French government to take action by extraditing the aging priest so he can be returned to Canada.

“We need to heal. Rivoire has to face justice,” Mapsalak told a room full of French and Canadian media at a press conference shortly after he stepped off the plane.

French reporters scrum Tanya Tungilik following a press conference at the Paris Press Club on Monday. (Emma Tranter / Nunatsiaq News)

Mapsalak told reporters he didn’t want to go into detail about what allegedly happened to him, stifling tears as he spoke.

“I’m not going to say in detail what happened. but I’m very thankful for my late and good friend who started to charge him, Marius Tungilik,” said Mapsalak, pausing between words to wipe tears from his eyes.

Tanya Tungilik accused the Catholic Church of hiding Rivoire in France.

“We know where he lives now,” she said.

Tungilik’s father died by suicide in 2012 at the age of 55, “not ever getting any answers or justice,” Tungilik said.

“I can’t imagine how he would have felt if he had known his charges against Rivoire were dropped in 2017. I’m glad he didn’t,” Tungilik said, her voice breaking.

The group will travel to Lyon on Wednesday, where they will meet with Church officials and, they hope, with Rivoire himself though he has refused to meet with them.

In February this year, police charged Rivoire again, this time with a sole count of committing indecent assault against a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979.

In July, officials with Canada’s Department of Justice asked France to extradite Rivoire so he could face justice in Canada.

During Monday’s press conference, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. CEO Kilikvak Kabloona read a statement, addressed to the media, from the woman who came forward earlier this year leading to the new charge against Rivoire.

“I want him in court. I want him in Nunavut for justice in my own language,” Kabloona read from the statement.

NTI president Aluki Kotierk, who also travelled with the delegation, told the room she wants France to act on Canada’s extradition request. Although Canada has an extradition treaty with France, France’s penal code protects its citizens from it.

“We need your help,” Kotierk told reporters.

“Now France needs to take active and brisk steps to honor Canada’s extradition request.”

Kotierk noted France’s investigation by an independent commission in 2021 into the sexual abuse of children and youth by Roman Catholic clergy since the 1950s. Its final report found more than 3,000 priests and clergy had abused minors over five decades in that country.

“You are dismantling the systems that allowed abusers to be hidden and protected. You are putting abusers behind bars,” Kotierk said,

“This is how French deal with the sexual abuse of children and youth. Similarly, Rivoire must face his charges in a Canadian court.”

On Tuesday, the delegation will meet with France’s Ministry of Justice staff and Canada’s ambassador to France.