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New Democrats want special prosecutor on residential schools, crimes against children

OTTAWA — For years, Inuit have watched a priest they say abused children for decades recline in comfortable retirement in France. Time for that to end, two New Democrat members of Parliament said Thursday.

OTTAWA — For years, Inuit have watched a priest they say abused children for decades recline in comfortable retirement in France.

Time for that to end, two New Democrat members of Parliament said Thursday. 

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus, who represents Timmins-James Bay in northern Ontario, called for the federal government to reopen talks to have Oblate priest Johannes Rivoire face trial for his alleged crimes, either in Canada or his native country.

And they demanded the federal justice minister appoint a special prosecutor to ensure that everything done to Indigenous people in all the institutions to which they were taken is revealed — and perpetrators tried. 

"Enough is enough," said Qaqqaq.

"Indigenous people need truth and justice, not only about individual abusers like Rivoire but about the hellhole of all genocidal residential school systems. We need a full and independent investigation that has the power to shine a light on every facet of this national crime and has the power to bring perpetrators to justice." 

Rivoire, now 90, was in Canada from the early 1960s to 1993, when he returned to France. He worked in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. 

He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse relating to his time in those communities and a warrant for his arrest was issued in 1998. But in 2019, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada confirmed those charges wouldn't be proceeding — at least partly due to France's reluctance to extradite its citizens for crimes committed elsewhere. 

But the Inuit desire to see Rivoire face trial has never faded. In a June 30 letter to Justice Minister David Lametti, the president of the body that oversees the Nunavut Land Claim demanded the charges be reactivated through new evidence.

"Canada has options available to pursue the matter of Johannes Rivoire’s," wrote Aluki Kotierk of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. 

She pointed out France has sent accused criminals to Canada in the past and Canada has extradited citizens to France. She also said France has prosecuted its own citizens for crimes committed in other countries. 

"If France refuses to extradite Johannes Rivoire, Canada should aggressively urge France to prosecute him in France," she wrote. 

She said her group, as well as two Nunavut premiers, had written letters to various Liberal justice ministers about Rivoire. 

"(We) did not even receive either an acknowledgment of receipt of, or the courtesy of a response, on this very serious matter," the letter states. 

It's time for Rivoire to face justice, said Peter Irniq, a longtime Inuit leader and childhood friend of a man who said he was one of Rivoire's victims. Marius Tungilik killed himself in 2012. 

"I still would like to see that man in Canada," said Irniq. "He needs to be tried."

It's time for all abusers to face justice, said Qaqqaq and Angus. They called for a fully funded prosecutor, with the power to compel testimony and documents, to look into all institutions that affected Indigenous people. That would include residential schools, day schools and tuberculosis sanatoriums — where Inuit were taken in the thousands.

"We cannot trust the Justice Department to do this without an independent special prosecutor and international observers," Qaqqaq said. 

Angus said the federal government possesses a "trove" of documents that would extend the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

"(The Commission) did not have a mandate to pursue justice, to go after the perpetrators," he said. "Canadians and Indigenous communities are calling for justice."

Justice Canada did not respond to a request for comment. 

Qaqqaq, who has announced she won't seek re-election, said crimes committed against Inuit children even decades ago continue to echo through Nunavut communities. 

"(Abusers) caused possible generations of trauma," she said. 

"Child sexual abuse in Nunavut is rampant. There is a reason for that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2021. 

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960

The Canadian Press