Cdn Inuit delegation heading to France to pressure French gov’t to extradite ex-priest

The late Marius Tungilik pictured in 1972, and Steve Mapsalak, a former two-time Nunavut MLA, as a child. Both experienced abuse in residential schools. (Submitted by Tanya Tungilik, Steve Mapsalak)

By Juanita Taylor · CBC News 

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to lead delegation Sept 12-15

Warning: This article discusses the abuse of children in residential schools.

A man from Naujaat, Nunavut, is going to France in the hope he will face his alleged sexual abuser.

He will not be going alone.

Next week, Steve Mapsalak will travel with a delegation of Inuit led by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) to try to get the French public to put pressure on their government to extradite a former French Oblate priest, Johannes Rivoire, who once lived and worked in northern Canada.

Mapsalak, a former two-term MLA, said NTI approached him to join the delegation heading to Paris.

Painful past

Mapsalak was taken from his parents when he was six years old and forced to attend the Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School in Chesterfield Inlet. He’d go home to Naujaat for three months of the year until he was age 13.

That’s where he alleges Rivoire sexually abused him.

“I blame[d] my parents that time, after residential school,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

Steve Mapsalak will be among the Inuit delegation heading to Paris in mid-September. (Submitted by Steve Mapsalak)

After a quiet moment, he continued to recall that time in his life.

“I walked away from them, living with some of my cousins and aunts rather than staying there because I was in blame with them that they put me there and it was their fault.”

Wiping away tears, Mapsalak remembered fondly making up with his parents. “I’m glad — before they were gone — I had a nice talk with them and apologized to them.”

His brother, Marcel Mapsalak, told CBC in 2019 that Rivoire also sexually abused him in the 1960s.

But today, Steve’s memories of what Rivoire did to him are too painful to put into words.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s hard. Thinking that they’re the ones that took me away from my parents. They were the ones that told us what’s bad and what’s good,” he said.

“How could they do this and preach and do this to little boys?”

In the 1990s, Mapsalak said he was approached numerous times and asked whether he wanted to press charges against Rivoire, but the flashbacks were too difficult.

He eventually agreed, and the first warrant for Rivoire’s arrest was issued in 1998, but Rivoire had fled to France in 1993.

Since there is no extradition treaty between Canada and France, Rivoire doesn’t legally have to return to Canada to face those charges.

In 2017, those four charges were stayed.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada stated there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction regarding the charges and continuing prosecution was no longer in the public interest.

The PPSC also indicated Rivoire’s age and his health were factors in the stay.

Then, in 2021, Nunavut RCMP received another complaint accusing Rivoire of sexual assault over 45 years ago. The report resulted in another warrant for Rivoire’s arrest, which is currently active.

Priest Rivoire

Johannes Rivoire was ordained as an Oblate priest in France in 1958.

He became a Canadian citizen (and still holds dual citizenship) to work in Igloolik, Nunavut, where he lived from 1960 to 1965.

Johannes Rivoire moved to Nunavut in the 1960s and stayed there until returning to France in 1993. (Submitted by Lieve Halsberghe)

He then worked in Repulse Bay (now Naujaat) from 1965 to 1974 where the alleged abuses occurred.

Then, he worked as a missionary in Eskimo Point (now Arviat) from 1974 to 1993.

As first reported by APTN in July 2022 after speaking with him in France, Rivoire denies any allegations of committing sexual abuse against Inuit children.

‘Church and its priests are not above the law’

NTI president Aluki Kotierk will be among the six Inuit from Nunavut travelling to France from Sept. 12 to 15.

Her office has sent letters requesting meetings with the head of the Oblates, as well as France’s president, prime minister and justice minister.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk looks out the window of her office in Iqaluit. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

“For 22 of the past 26 years, Rivoire has been a fugitive wanted in Canada for prosecution,” Kotierk said in a news release.

“During this time, Rivoire has been under the care and protection of the Oblates in France to avoid negative publicity and to protect the reputation of Roman Catholics. The church and its priests are not above the law.”

NTI has also requested to meet with Rivoire.

More victims

If Rivoire agrees to meet with the Inuit delegation, Tanya Tungilik, who is also part of the delegation, said she knows what she’ll say.

“A lot of choice words. I want to tell him how he ruined my dad’s life and our life,” Tanya said.

Tanya Tungilik of Rankin Inlet is pictured in Iqaluit ahead of a visit by Pope Francis on July 29, 2022. She is one of the people who will travel to Paris next week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Her brother, Jesse Tungilik, will also be going to Paris. Their late father, Marius Tungilik, alleges Rivoire sexually abused him at the same place and time as Steve and Marcel Mapsalak.

“I want to try and bring Johannes Rivoire to justice. Bring him to Canada,” said Tanya from her home in Rankin Inlet.

She said her father wanted to confront Rivoire but died before he had that chance, and now she and her brother are doing this for him.

Earlier this summer, Tanya got to tell some of her dad’s story to Pope Francis during his stop in Iqaluit.

French expertise

NTI has hired Nadia Debbache, a lawyer who practises immigration and asylum law in France, and who has worked on similar cases. She is with Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a worldwide organization that seeks justice for victims.

Debbache said they are waiting on a decision from France’s Ministry of Justice to extradite Rivoire and that public pressure will help.

“We have a short time because the age [of] the Monsieur Rivoire,” she said.

NTI, which plans to hold a news conference while in Paris, is also working with a human rights activist from Belgium, Lieve Halsberghe, who knew Marius Tungilik.

Halsberghe was active in bringing the defrocked Oblate priest, Eric Dejaeger, to justice in Canada.

‘I have very mixed feelings’

Steve Mapsalak said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen once they’re in France but he knows it’s high time the matter is dealt with.

He said he’ll be thinking about Marius Tungilik, whom he calls a good friend.

Mapasalak also said he hopes this trip will help cure his pain and that he gets the chance to face his alleged abuser.

“Even a phone call would help.”

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canadian Inuit and Métis leaders met cardinals, Vatican officials to pursue justice, CBC News

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Sami education conference looks at how to better serve Indigenous children, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

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