NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq holds a photo of Johannes Rivoire, a priest who is wanted in Canada but resides in France, during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, July 8, 2021.The federal government says France has denied an extradition request for the priest.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

France denies extradition for priest facing sexual assault charge in Nunavut

The federal government says France has denied an extradition request for a priest accused of crimes against children in Nunavut.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada made the extradition request for Johannes Rivoire, who is in his 90s and lives in Lyon, France.

Rivoire is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant issued in February for a charge of sexual assault that stems from a complaint received last year. The accuser was a child at the time of the alleged offence between 1974 and 1979.

“This news is deeply troubling,” said Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunnagavik Inc., which organized a delegation to France to call for the extradition earlier this year.

“It’s difficult to fathom why France continues to harbour a fugitive and refuses to allow one of its citizens to face justice for crimes against children in Canada.”

Kotierk said in a statement Wednesday that France’s decision was short-sighted. She said her heart goes out to survivors and their families”who have endured the suffering for far too long.”

While Canada and France share an extradition treaty, a news release from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said French authorities indicated the request was denied because France prohibits the extradition of its citizens.

France also said that, under French law, too much time had passed between the events and the charges being laid and it would also not pursue charges domestically for that reason.

“Heartbreaking to see this grave injustice continue,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said in a tweet Wednesday.

Rivoire was in Canada from the early 1960s to 1993, when he returned to France. He has previously avoided trial for multiple allegations of sexual abuse linked to his time as a priest in Nunavut.

A warrant was also issued for his arrest 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.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said at the time it was partly due to France’s reluctance to extradite Rivoire.

Miller said the federal government is working with RCMP to have Interpol issue a “Red Notice,” which would allow for Rivoire to be arrested in any other country.

“Therefore, prosecution in Canada remains possible if Johannes Rivoire leaves France,” Miller said.

The 10-member delegation representing Nunavut Inuit met with French and church officials last month to call for Rivoire’s extradition.

Kotierk said they tried to convey the reason for delays in charges to French justice officials. In some instances, survivors reported crimes to police multiple times but no action was taken, Kotierk said. In other cases, there was no RCMP detachment in the community when the alleged crimes took place.

The delegation also met with Rivoire to try and persuade the priest to travel to Canada on an extra seat they booked on their return flight.

Tanya Tungilik was part of the delegation. Her late father alleged that he was sexually abused by Rivoire in Naujaat when he was 13 years old.

She said facing Rivoire and telling him how he affected her family has brought her some peace. That’s why it’s important he faces his crimes in Canada, she said.

Tungilik said she was disappointed but not surprised that the extradition request was denied.

“It felt like a gut punch,” Tungilik said.

Rivoire has denied all allegations against him and none have been proven in court.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, met with the head of the Oblates, the Catholic order to which Rivoire belongs, in Rome earlier this year. He discussed the church’s responsibility in ensuring Rivoire is put on trial in Canada.

The meeting came after Obed asked Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican to personally intervene in Rivoire’s case.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate later said they urged Rivoire to face the charges against him and have written the French and Canadian governments. The religious order said it has begun dismissal proceedings against the priest.

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