The federal NDP is hopeful efforts in France to confront sexual abuse in the Catholic Church could present an opportunity to have a former priest who was accused of sexually traumatizing Inuit children in Nunavut in the 1960s and 1970s brought back to Canada to face justice.
NDP MPs Lori Idlout and Charlie Angus wrote this week to Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, to congratulate him on a report about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France that came out in October, calling it “extraordinary.”
Their letter also asks for his assistance to work with Indigenous people in Canada in response to abuses suffered by children, specifically allegations involving Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest who was based in Nunavut and is now believed to be in France.
“Rivoire has caused severe trauma to communities throughout Nunavut,” the letter states. “The survivors are calling for him to face justice.”
In October, a report estimated that 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse within France’s Catholic Church over the past 70 years. It also said that authorities covered up the wrongdoing over decades in a “systemic manner.”
Mr. Angus said he and Ms. Idlout hope that by reaching out to French Catholic officials who led such a “brutally honest investigation” that the church will see the importance of Mr. Rivoire returning to Canada.
The Bishops’ Conference of France has yet to respond to the letter and could not be reached for comment. The allegations against Mr. Rivoire have not been tested in court, and he has not publicly commented on media reports concerning the allegations.
The RCMP laid three sex-related charges against Mr. Rivoire in connection with his time in Rankin Inlet between 1968 and 1970. The force issued a warrant in 1998. But in 2017, the charges were stayed.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) said on Friday that it has a continuing obligation to assess the viability of prosecutions, and in 2017, it concluded there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction on the charges against Mr. Rivoire, and they were stayed as a result.
A spokesperson for the PPSC said that, under a section of the Criminal Code, a prosecution has one year to recommence after a stay of proceedings, but that it did not do so against Mr. Rivoire.
“Among the considerations in this case is the impossibility of compelling Mr. Rivoire to appear before a Canadian court,” said Nathalie Houle, a media-relations adviser for the service.
Former Nunavut politician Piita Irniq said on Friday he has spent the past 20 years trying to help pursue justice for one of Mr. Rivoire’s alleged victims, his late friend Marius Tungilik, who died in 2012 at the age of 55.
Throughout Mr. Tungilik’s life, which involved work as a public servant and as a journalist for CBC News in Iqaluit, he was haunted by the abuse he suffered, Mr. Irniq said. He added that Mr. Tungilik would often speak about what happened to him when the two would go hunting together.
“It was too much for him to take on,” Mr. Irniq said.
Mr. Irniq, who is also a residential-school and abuse survivor, underscored the importance of justice for survivors.
“We need to see this man [Mr. Rivoire] be brought back to Canada and stand trial and answer for his horrific, horrific crimes against Inuit children,” he said. “He should not be allowed to get away with all of it. That’s so important.”
Mr. Irniq is also calling on Justice Minister David Lametti to have the federal government work on bringing Mr. Rivoire back to the country. He encouraged him to listen to survivors.
“We are depending on you to help us get back Father Rivoire,” Mr. Irniq said. “We need your help.”
When asked if Canada made any attempt to get Mr. Rivoire to return to the country, the Justice Department said that state-to-state communications are confidential and it cannot comment on any discussions that may or may not have occurred regarding Mr. Rivoire.
Mr. Angus said Mr. Lametti should, at the very least, make public statements to the Oblate religious order and to the Catholic Church in France on the case of Mr. Rivoire. He said that among survivors, there is a sense that “Canada never took these crimes seriously.”
In a statement, Mr. Lametti said he has had discussions with Indigenous leaders about steps the government needs to take, particularly for residential-school survivors and their families. But he said it is important for him, as Attorney-General, to refrain from commenting on the specifics of any individual case in order to maintain a position of impartiality.
The number for the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419. British Columbia has a First Nations and Indigenous Crisis Line offered through the KUU-US Crisis Line Society, toll-free at 1-800-588-8717.
With reports from The Canadian Press and Associated Press
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