Inuits plead for priest's return to Canada over abuse claims

LYON, France (AP) — A priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children when he missioned in their Canadian Arctic community has told alleged victims and relatives who traveled to France to confront him that he won’t go back to Canada to be questioned.

The 10-member Inuit delegation met this week with the Rev. Joannes Rivoire, hoping to persuade the 92-year-old to return with them to Canada, where they want him to face justice. Canadian police are also seeking his arrest on a sexual assault charge.

But the Oblate priest refused and denied wrongdoing, delegation members said Thursday at a news conference in Lyon, the southeastern French city where Rivoire lives in a care home.

The daughter of one of the priest’s late alleged victims described the meeting as like coming face-to-face with “the monster.”

Tanya Tungilik said she blames the priest for her father's death. She said her father also suffered from alcoholism and recurrent nightmares.

“He has no remorse,” she said of Wednesday’s meeting with Rivoire. “I left. I didn’t want to hear his lies.”

France traditionally does not extradite its citizens – a policy reiterated by the French Justice Ministry in Paris when the Inuit delegation also traveled there for a meeting this week.

At the Lyon news conference, the delegation and their lawyer urged French authorities to make an exception in this case. The Canadian government has previously said that it, too, has asked France to extradite Rivoire.

The delegation booked an extra seat for their planned return to Canada, hoping that the priest would fly back with them.

The group alleges that the priest abused 50-60 children when he was stationed in their community from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The priest has previously denied allegations of abuse.

A Lyon-based lawyer for the priest did not immediately respond Thursday to an Associated Press phone message seeking comment and the lawyer’s office said he was in court for another matter.

The Inuit delegation also met in Lyon with the Rev. Vincent Gruber, a representative of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The delegation said Gruber told them that he has started a procedure to expel Rivoire from the church.

Canadian authorities issued an initial arrest warrant for the priest in 1998 on accusations of several counts of sexual abuse.

Canadian police said Thursday, in response to questions from AP, that they also received a complaint in 2021 “of sexual assaults that occurred approximately 47 years ago involving one female victim.”

Police said that following an investigation, Rivoire was then charged with sexual assault in February this year and a Canada-wide warrant issued for his arrest.


AP journalist John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, contributed.