NAJUAAT, NVT. –
An Inuk man who claims he was sexually assaulted by a former Oblate priest in Nunavut when he was 13 says meeting the man face to face after nearly three decades has been a relief.
Steve Mapsalak was part of a delegation led by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group representing the Inuit of Nunavut, which traveled to France last week to seek the extradition of Johannes Rivoire to Canada. The group met with French and Oblate officials, as well as Rivoire himself.
Mapsalak, who previously served as mayor of Naujaat, Nvt., and served two terms as a member of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly, said he initially had mixed feelings when approached to join the trip. He said he decided to confront Rivoire because he thought it could be a healing experience.
“After doing and saying what I had to say to him, I felt a release inside me and felt much better,” he said by phone from his home in Naujaat on Tuesday. “It really helped me a lot.”
Mapsalak said he spoke to Rivoire, who is now 91 and lives in a care home in Lyon, in Inuktitut because he spoke and understood the language while living in Nunavut.
“I told him that I know he knew exactly what he did to me when I was a kid and when I was helpless.”
Mapsalak said Rivoire replied that he did not remember anything. He told the former priest he wanted an apology.
“That’s when I left the room, I couldn’t bear to look at him anymore.”
Mapsalak said the last time he saw Rivoire was at the Winnipeg airport in 1993. He said Rivoire was leaving Canada following allegations that he had abused Inuit children.
“I didn’t approach him but when he saw me I noticed that his face had turned very red,” he recalls.
Rivoire was an Oblate priest in Nunavut from the 1960s until 1993, when he returned to France. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. alleges it abused up to 60 children during that time.
The allegations were never heard in court and Rivoire denied any wrongdoing.
A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of four children were stayed in 2017.
Following a new complaint, Rivoire was charged in February with one count of indecent assault on a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. Canadian judicial authorities sent an extradition request to France.
Although Canada and France share an extradition treaty, France does not traditionally extradite its citizens. In a meeting with the Inuit delegation, officials from the country’s justice ministry said extraditing a French national would violate a constitutional principle. The group said it disagreed with banning France from extraditing its citizens.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate said they repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges against him, but he refused to return to Canada. As a result, Oblate leaders in France said they had decided to dismiss Rivoire from their congregation.
Mapsalak said he still hopes to see Rivoire face justice in Canada.
Nadia Debbache, a French lawyer who is working with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. on the case, said she plans to file a complaint against the Oblates and take legal action for allegedly covering up a criminal.
“I am in the process of preparing this complaint so that all the light is shed on the behavior of this congregation,” she wrote in an email.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 21, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.