Priest accused of sex assaults against children in Nunavut dies in France

— “Joannès Rivoire left a legacy of intimidation, fear and horror to his victims. His victims will now begin healing from his death,” Inuk elder says.

MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq holds a photo of Joannès Rivoire during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, July 8, 2021. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate says Rivoire, a priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Nunavut, has died after a long illness.

By Brittany Hobson

A priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Nunavut decades ago has died in France after a long, undisclosed illness.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, including the Oblates of Lacombe Canada and the Oblate Province of France, say Joannès Rivoire died Thursday. He was in his 90s.

Rev. Ken Thorson with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe Canada says the death may be difficult news for those who advocated for the priest to face justice in Canada.

“We sincerely regret that … Rivoire never made himself available and will never face the charges that were laid against him. We further regret that efforts for him to be formally removed as a priest were unsuccessful,” he said in an emailFriday.

A recent independent review of the claims against Rivoire supported allegations that the priest assaulted six children in Nunavut.

Rivoire arrived in Canada in 1959. He stayed in the North until January 1993, when he told superiors he needed to return to France to take care of his elderly parents.

That same month, four people went to the RCMP in Nunavut to accuse Rivoire of sexual assaults.

Rivoire refused to return to Canada after an arrest warrant was issued in 1998. He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. More than two decades later, the charges were stayed.

Another arrest warrant was issued for Rivoire in 2022 for a charge of indecent assault involving a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. French authorities refused an extradition request.

Rivoire denied all allegations against him and none were proven in court.

Inuit leaders and politicians, from senators to Nunavut premiers, spent years urging that the priest should face trial, with some taking their fight to Parliament Hill and Lyon, France, where Rivoire lived.

Piita Irniq, an Inuk elder and former politician who fought for more than a decade to have Rivoire returned to Canada, said in a message to The Canadian Press that he was notified Friday morning of Rivoire’s death.

“Rivoire left a legacy of intimidation, fear and horror to his victims. His victims will now begin healing from his death.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national organization representing Inuit across Canada, called the case a systemic failure of nation states and religious institutions.

Natan Obed, the organization’s president, met with Pope Francis in 2022 and asked him to intervene in the case.

The group said in a statement that Inuit have done everything to help bring justice, but in the end it was not enough.

“Our thoughts are with the many victims … and the many victims of abusers who continue to elude justice,” it said.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group that represents Nunavut Inuit, said in a statement it’s disappointing Rivoire didn’t have to answer to the charges against him.

“NTI assisted in the efforts of victims and their families seeking justice and will continue to stand with them now that Rivoire has died,” it said.

“Governments must do better to support victims of abuse and in bringing perpetrators of violence against children to justice.”

Rivoire was banned from public ministry after the Oblates said they first learned of criminal proceedings against him. The Oblates in both Canada and France repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges, but he refused.

Some believed the Oblates played a role in his departure for France. The independent review, led by retired Superior Court justice Andre Denis, found no evidence the church was aware of any allegations or helped the priest leave.

Denis said it’s possible rumours about the priest’s behaviour are why he left, but there was no evidence.

The Oblates in Canada and France also appealed to leadership in Rome to commence dismissal proceedings against Rivoire. Earlier this year, it was determined the priest could remain a member of the congregation.

Thorson said Friday the Oblates will continue to offer support for complainants and their families in the next chapter of their healing process.

“We wish to apologize unequivocally to anyone who was harmed by Rivoire … our prayers are with the Inuit community and anyone who is still processing this news.”

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