To this day, she hates Sundays. They remind her of the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of Rev. Johannes Rivoire, a Roman Catholic priest, after weekly mass in Nunavut in the 1970s.
She was just six years old when the alleged abuse began, and she never told her parents. Now 52, the Inuk woman said recently that she has spent most of her life dealing with the impacts of what happened to her. Although she does not hate the church, she said, she feels it is important for her story to be shared, and she wants authorities to hold Father Rivoire accountable for his actions.
“He put his hand to my mouth to keep me quiet, pull my hair,” she recalled of the alleged abuse, which she said took place from around 1974 to 1979. “I was crying.” The woman requested that the The Globe and Mail not identify her, because of the deeply personal nature of the allegations.
She is not alone. Many Inuit who grew up in Nunavut have told stories of being abused as children by Father Rivoire, who lived in Canada beginning in the 1960s and was criminally charged with three sex-related offences in 1993. In 1998, the RCMP issued a warrant for his arrest. But by then he had moved to France, which generally protects its citizens from extradition. In 2017, the Public Prosecution Service said there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction, and the charges were stayed.
For a time, it seemed Father Rivoire – now 93 and living in a nursing home in Lyon – was likely never to appear in a Canadian court. But in the past two months the Inuk woman’s allegations against him have triggered a new charge of sexual assault, and the RCMP has issued a new Canada-wide warrant for his arrest.
The new charge has prompted renewed calls for Father Rivoire to be brought to Canada to face justice, including from the federal NDP and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national voice of 60,000 Inuit.
The Inuk woman said she had approached the RCMP in Nunavut to share her story of abuse many times over the past three decades, beginning in 1983. She said police repeatedly told her the case lacked evidence – an experience she described as both confusing and difficult. Determined not to give up her fight, she went back to the Mounties in November, and an officer heard her complaint.
Suddenly, there was a breakthrough: she learned this winter that the information she had provided had resulted in a charge.
“I asked the right person, I guess,” she said.
Although the new charge against Father Rivoire was filed on Feb. 23, it was not revealed publicly until March 28, when ITK president Natan Obed raised the case directly with the Pope during a series of meetings at the Vatican between Catholic officials and an Indigenous delegation from Canada.
When asked why the new charge had been laid, Corporal Tammy Keller, a spokesperson for the Nunavut RCMP, said the force has a responsibility to investigate all allegations and circumstances of a criminal nature. When a victim came to the RCMP last fall, she added, an investigator was assigned to the case.
“The investigation was actively pursued and managed, which has resulted in the recent charge being successfully laid,” Cpl. Keller said. “Investigating a historical case is complex, especially when offences have occurred decades ago, so we are very pleased that we have supported this victim and managed this investigation in an efficient and thorough manner.”
Cpl. Keller said the RCMP was not in a position to comment on how it handled previous allegations against Father Rivoire.
The charge comes as a relief for the Inuk woman. She said she wants Father Rivoire brought back to Canada, and that she is seeking a direct apology from him. If he isn’t brought back to the country, she would like to go to France to speak with him.
“I really need to see him,” she said. “I want to talk to him, why he did this to me. And I want him to apologize to me.”
Speaking in Rome on April 1, Mr. Obed said it was “tragic that it has taken this long to get where we are” with Father Rivoire’s case.
Mr. Obed told reporters he had asked the Pope to tell Father Rivoire to return to Canada.
If Father Rivoire refuses the request, Mr. Obed said, the Pope should “work with the French government to ensure that there could be extradition, or that Johannes Rivoire might be tried in France.”
“I would imagine that this is an extraordinary request of the Pope,” Mr. Obed said. “The Pope is someone who has extraordinary powers above and beyond the powers that we have tried to work with over time on this case. And that is why we asked him directly.”
On April 1, Pope Francis issued an apology for the “deplorable conduct” of some members of the Catholic Church in relation to residential schools in Canada. Many Indigenous people who attended the institutions as children have said they were sexually abused by the schools’ clergy or lay staff.
But the Pope has not publicly commented on Father Rivoire’s case.
Neil MacCarthy, a spokesperson at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), said in a statement that the bishops support a full investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by members of the church, and that they would not stand in the way of bringing perpetrators to justice.
“With respect to the Rivoire case, we know that president Obed raised this matter with the Holy Father in their meeting last week,” Mr. MacCarthy said.
“While the CCCB does not represent the Oblates, as they are an independent order, we know that Oblate leadership have been in contact with both president Obed and the federal government to offer any support they can with this case,” he added, referring to Father Rivoire’s religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Last week, Justice Minister David Lametti acknowledged the new charge against Father Rivoire and said it was important to Canada and its international partners that serious crimes be fully investigated and prosecuted. His office said it was unable to comment on whether Canada had made an extradition request.
Le Monde, a Paris-based publication, reported late last year that Father Rivoire denied ever having touched minors and rejected any sexual abuse allegations against him.
He insisted that he left Canada for France in 1993 to look after ailing parents, not to evade the criminal charges laid against him that same year.
Former senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the ongoing impacts of residential schools in Canada, said the Catholic Church has continued to provide Father Rivoire with solace.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate keep Father Rivoire under house arrest at his nursing home, according to Le Monde.
“To that extent, the church is participating in a breach of the law here in Canada, and they should not continue to do that,” Mr. Sinclair said. “My view is he should be brought back to Canada and he should face the charges that he was initially called upon to face. Injustice occurs when justice is denied like that.”
With reports from Tavia Grant in Rome and Patrick White in Toronto
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.