Oblate commission to examine abuse response

  • June 28, 2023

Retired Quebec Justice André Denis has been appointed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission, an independent examination of historical allegations of sexual abuse against Johannes Rivoire.

Rivoire, now an expelled Oblate missionary, worked in Nunavut throughout the 1960s and ’70s. In the early 1990s, he moved to France. Since that time, people in Nunavut have been pushing for his extradition so he can answer to sex-related criminal charges.

The intent of the Oblate Safeguarding Commission is to scrutinize the congregation’s response to the allegations, particularly the circumstances that allowed Rivoire to leave Canada for France. The aim is to “better understand how past allegations of abuse were addressed within the congregation and identify any improvements to Oblate policies and governance in order to better safeguard minors and ensure a high level of accountability,” according to the OMI Lacombe website.

 “The Oblates recognize the tragic legacy of clergy abuse and are sincerely committed to support the Inuit peoples who advocate for truth, justice, healing and reconciliation,” said Fr. Ken Thorson, the head of OMI Lacombe. “It is my hope that Justice André Denis’ work will contribute to the process of healing for the survivors and intergenerational survivors of clergy abuse.”

Three accusations of sexual abuse against minors were levied against Rivoire for decades in connection to his time in the Inuit communities of Naujaat and Rankin Inlet. However, the charges were stayed in 2017. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) told media at the time that “there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction regarding the charges.”

RCMP issued an arrest warrant for Rivoire for five counts of sexual abuse in 1998. Justice Canada and PPSC never publicly disclosed if an extradition was sought.

New, but fleeting life was breathed into the prospect of Rivoire being extradited last year. In March 2022, the Nunavut RCMP announced a new indecent assault charge and a fresh arrest warrant active against the Oblate. This announcement was spawned by an investigation into claims that a girl was abused by Rivoire over 47 years ago.

An Inuit delegation travelled to France last September to implore French officials to extradite Rivoire. On Oct. 25, the request was denied.

Thorson said he was “deeply saddened” by the news and that “we regret that these same authorities advised that they are unable to prosecute him.”

Thorson also added that the Oblates frequently called for Rivoire “to face his accusers” and that the group advocated for the RCMP to issue a Red Notice, which would enable Rivoire to be arrested in another country if he departed from France.

Denis, who served the Superior Court of Quebec from 1991 to 2015, said he appreciates being chosen for this important responsibility and he is well-qualified to carry out this mandate.

“I appreciate the opportunity to lead this commission and expect that my findings will contribute to greater understanding of this history, while positioning the Oblates to set a higher standard of accountability and safety,” said Denis. “I believe that my experience on the Quebec Superior Court and completing two public review processes for the Archdiocese of Montreal positions me well to take on this important project.”

Denis reviewed over 10,000 documents and produced a report that revealed 87 employees from nine dioceses of the Ecclesiastical Province of Montreal and the Ecclesiastical Province of Gatineau were the subjects of “confirmed or well-founded sex-abuse allegations involving minors or vulnerable adults.”

OMI Lacombe Canada and the French Oblates will arm Denis with all relevant personnel records and archival material. He will also speak with victims and their families to learn about any improvements that can be made to Oblate policy.

Denis is expected to finalize a report in English, French and Inuktitut by no later than April 1, 2024.

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