Retired judge visits Nunavut to hear about Inuit sexual abuse claims against priest

— The leader of a new Oblate Safeguarding Commission has begun investigating the handling of clergy abuse allegations in Nunavut.

Joannes Rivoire

By Kathleen Martens

A retired judge was in Nunavut this week to hear more about historical allegations of child sexual abuse against an Oblate Catholic priest.

André Denis, formerly of the Superior Court of Quebec, was hired by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission and review their handling of the accusations against Joannes Rivoire.

Rivoire, who served 30 years as a missionary in Nunavut, has denied the allegations.

The Oblates say Denis has until next spring to complete his report, which is independent of their Order.

“While we have supported the process by providing him with guidelines and trying to promote awareness of the Commission, I am unable to speak in detail to his ongoing work,” Rev. Ken Thorson of OMI  Lacombe in Ottawa said in an email to APTN News.

Tanya Tungilik met with Denis in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, earlier this week, but said it wasn’t clear what he is trying to achieve.

“He asked a lot of questions,” Tungilik said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I don’t think it’s going to get anything actionable done.”

The allegations against Rivoire, who worked in three remote Arctic commnunities, have dragged on for years.

It was the 1990s when four Inuit filed complaints with the RCMP in Nunavut accusing Rivoire of sexually abusing them as children between 1963 and 1993.

Marius Tungilik (in glasses) as a young boy in Nunavut.

Tungilik’s late father, Marius Tungilik, was one of the complainants.

However, Rivoire had returned to France by the time RCMP charged him in 1998 with five counts of indecently assaulting four Inuit children, including Marius.

In 2017, the charges were stayed, citing a lack of cooperation from France, which refuses to extradite its citizens.

Rivoire is now in his 90s and living in a Catholic nursing home in Lyon.

He told APTN in an exclusive interview in June 2022 that he would not return to Canada to fight the most recent charge RCMP laid against him in 2021 after an Inuk woman came forward with a new allegation.

Undeterred, a delegation of Inuit – that included Tanya – travelled to France a few months later to seek Rivoire’s extradition.

Again, France refused.

Tanya said Denis told her he is interviewing numerous people and has obtained church records relating to Rivoire’s career as a missionary in the Arctic. This is of interest to her as she has been denied a copy of her dad’s complaint to the RCMP.

“I really want to see my dad’s statement. But they [RCMP] won’t give it to me,” she said despite filing an Access to Information request.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
Jesse Tungilik (left), his sister Tanya Tungilik (centre), and Steve Mapsalak (right), speak about Catholic clergy abuse while in Paris.

Denis declined to comment on the commission when reached by APTN.

“Out of respect for the process, I have committed that I will only take part in media interviews after the report is complete,” he said.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., an Inuit advocacy and land claim association that led the delegation to France in 2022, did not respond to a request for comment on the commission.

It has urged more complainants to come forward, however, because there is no statute of limitations on sex crimes in Canada.

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