Fugitive priest could still face sex charges if more Nunavummiut testify against him

Johannes Rivoire was charged for sexually abusing children in Naujaat and Rankin Inlet in the 1960s and 1970s. He returned to France in 1993 and charges against him were stayed in 2017, but the fight to get him returned to Canada to face justice is ongoing.

Prosecutors stayed charges against Johannes Rivoire in 2017

Father Johannes Rivoire in Arviat in 1979. The Oblate priest worked in several Nunavut communities in the 1960s and 70s. He was charged with sexually assaulting children and moved back to France in 1993. The Canadian government stayed the charges against him in 2017. (Library and Archives Canada)

An Oblate priest accused of sexually assaulting children in Naujaat and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, could still face charges, says Canada's justice minister — but victims need to bring new evidence forward first.

Johannes Rivoire spent time in several Nunavut communities starting in the 1960s, but returned to France in 1993. As it stands right now, if Rivoire was to return to Canada, he would be a free man — a warrant for his arrest was cancelled in 2018, after Crown prosecutors stayed charges against him of indecent assault and sexual assault.

On Monday, when pressed about Rivoire in the House of Commons by Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, Justice Minister David Lametti said he can't resurrect the stayed charges, but "there is always the possibility that further evidence might be brought forward by other complainants or other witnesses."

Lori Idlout, MP for Nunavut, is urging Nunavummiut to come forward if they have evidence of crimes by Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest who was accused of sexually abusing Nunavut children in the 1960s and 70s. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

If that happens, Lametti said the police, prosecutors and the Justice Department could re-examine the case.

Last week, Idlout and fellow NDP MP Charlie Angus sent a letter to the Bishops Conference of France asking them to pressure the Oblate order to return Rivoire to Canada.

France does not extradite French nationals, but Idlout said Lametti is also willing to see how Rivoire could face justice inside France.

Share your story, advocates say

Idlout is also urging victims to come forward with evidence against Rivoire.

"I know how painful the experience (is) and how much anger individuals might still hold, but I'm really hoping that Nunavummiut build the courage to come out and share your story because we need to make sure that Johannes Rivoire faces justice," she told CBC News.

Piita Irniq, who has long fought for justice for Rivoire's alleged victims, said he is thankful Idlout is speaking out. He, too, is urging victims to share their experiences in whatever way they feel comfortable — whether by going to police, or to Idlout.

"Speak privately, speak however you want — but tell your stories about what happened to you by Johannes Rivoire in the 1960s and 70s," he said.

Piita Irniq holds a photograph of himself and Marius Tungilik while seal hunting 25 miles outside Rankin Inlet. Irniq promised his late friend, who named Rivoire as his abuser, he would do all he could for him and Rivoire's other alleged victims. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Irniq said the issue makes him think of his late friend, Marius Tungilik, who named Rivoire as his abuser. Tungilik died in 2012.

"I made a promise to him in spirit that I would do all I can for him and for Rivoire's other victims," Irniq said.

"I want to see justice for his crimes. I want to see his victims in Nunavut to start healing from what happened to them, as well. So I'd like to see more people speak out."

Bishop supports extradition

Anthony Krótki is the bishop of the diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay-Nunavut.

He supports calls to extradite Rivoire, though he says Rivoire is in his 90s now and travelling may be impossible.

"If there is a way for him to be brought to Canada, I think it should happen," he said.

"The people deserve to have justice — all of us, everyone. And yet people had not been given that chance to feel free again from the past — from the memories, from the suffering, from pain, from any sort of abuse that he may have done to vulnerable little children."

Krótki said he personally asked the church to sanction Rivoire by removing him from public service. His request was acknowledged, but it's unclear exactly what else was done.

CBC News reached out to the Bishop's Conference of France but has yet to hear back.

For now, Idlout said people who want to speak about Rivoire can contact her office.

With files from Sidney Cohen, Cindy Alorut and Rosie Simonfalvy