An Inuk man who alleges he was sexually abused by a former Oblate priest in Nunavut when he was 13 years old says meeting the man face to face after nearly three decades was a relief.
Steve Mapsalak was part of a delegation led by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group representing Nunavut Inuit, that travelled to France last week to seek the extradition of Johannes Rivoire to Canada. The group met with French and Oblate officials, as well as with Rivoire himself.
Mapsalak, who was formerly mayor of Naujaat, Nvt., and served two terms as a member of the Nunavut legislature, said he initially had mixed feelings when he was approached to join the trip. He said he decided to face Rivoire as he believed it could be a healing experience.
“After I did and said what I needed to say to him, I felt a release inside me and I felt a lot better,” he said by phone from his home in Naujaat on Tuesday. “It’s helped me really very much.”
Mapsalak said he spoke to Rivoire, who is now 91 and lives in a care home in Lyon, in Inuktitut as he had spoken and understood the language when he lived in Nunavut.
“I told him I know that he knew exactly what he did to me when I was a child and when I was helpless.”
Mapsalak said Rivoire responded that he didn’t remember anything. He told the former priest he wanted an apology.
“That’s when I left the room, I couldn’t stand looking at him anymore.”
Mapsalak said the last time he saw Rivoire was at the airport in Winnipeg in 1993. He said Rivoire was leaving Canada following allegations that he had abused Inuit children.
“I didn’t get close to him but when he saw me I noticed that his face got really red,” he recalled.
Rivoire was an Oblate priest in Nunavut from the 1960s until 1993 when he returned to France. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. alleges he abused up to 60 children during that time.
The allegations have never been heard in court and Rivoire has denied any wrongdoing.
A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of four children were stayed in 2017.
Following a new complaint, Rivoire was charged in February with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. Canadian judicial authorities have sent an extradition request to France.
Although Canada and France share an extradition treaty, France does not traditionally extradite its citizens. During a meeting with the Inuit delegation, officials with the country’s Justice Ministry said extraditing a French national would violate a constitutional principle. The group said they do not agree that France is prohibited from extraditing its citizens.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate said they have repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges against him, but he has refused to return to Canada. As a result, Oblate leaders in France have said they have decided to dismiss Rivoire from their congregation.
Mapsalak said he still hopes to see Rivoire face justice in Canada.
Nadia Debbache, a French lawyer who is working with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. on the case, said she plans to file a complaint against the Oblates and pursue legal action for allegedly concealing a criminal.
“I am in the process of preparing this complaint so that all light may be shed on the behaviour of this congregation,” she wrote in an email.