Retired Superior Court of Quebec Justice André Denis. Photo courtesy Andre Denis

Doubt, skepticism, but also relief, greet Rivoire report

  • March 26, 2024

Reactions have poured in since the Oblates of Mary Immaculate published the Report of the Oblate Safeguarding Commission, authored by retired Superior Court of Quebec Justice André Denis, on March 19. The most consequential revelation of this 57-page report is that Rivoire was guilty, based on the “preponderance of evidence,” of sexually assaulting five minors in Naujaat, Nunavut, between 1968 and 1970, and one in Arviat and Whale Cove, Nunavut, between 1974 and 1979.

Fr. Ken Thorson, OMI, wrote in an email that “many have expressed their gratitude for the comprehensiveness of Justice Denis’ investigation and the clarity of the report.” Others told the provincial superior of OMI Lacombe their hopes that the findings “might offer some validation for those people (victims, families and supporters) who have long advocated for justice in this case.”

Tanya Tungilik, the daughter of the late Marius Tungilik, who accused Rivoire of sexual abuse, told the CBC she “was angry at a lot of parts but glad that (Denis) said that Rivoire was guilty of the crimes ... that he believed us.”

Thorson said “not surprisingly, some have voiced their doubt and skepticism. Over time, I hope to build on these efforts with a goal of closing the gap in trust that persists for many.”

Kilikvak Kabloona, the CEO of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), a legal agency representing the province’s Inuit communities, informed Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) that her organization “did not participate in this because it needs to be open, transparent and independent. It cannot be the institution investigating itself.” She called for a major public inquiry into clergy abuse in Nunavut.

A major source of the contention mentioned by Tungilik and Kabloona is how the RCMP conducted its investigation. According to Denis' report, four of the plaintiffs filed their complaints between Jan. 20 and Feb. 28, 1993. Rivoire left Canada for France on Jan. 16 under the guise of caring for his ill parents. The RCMP did not lay charges until Dec. 29, 1998.

An RCMP liaison officer informed Denis via email on Nov. 2, 2023, that the nearly six-year delay was because the “Chesterfield Inlet Task Force conducted inquiries into the Bernier Federal Day School from September 1993 until later 1995, essentially trying to determine if there were any additional complaints that warranted charges.” The initial charges were on hold while this task force fulfilled its mandate. Once the officers resolved that process, they interviewed additional witnesses and potential victims about the historical Rivoire cases.

Staff Sgt. Major Pauline Melanson of the RCMP Nunavut, the first Inuk in history to be appointed to this rank, emailed The Catholic Register to defend the RCMP’s work from 1993 to 1998.

“It is essential to conduct a thorough investigation, especially in allegations of sexual assault complaints, as it is a devastating crime that has traumatic and long-lasting effects on victims,” wrote Melanson. “The plaintiffs were updated and consulted throughout the investigation by the RCMP. During the course of the investigation, two more victim statements were obtained in 1997 that were also included in the charges laid in 1998.

“It is hard to predict what may have happened if the Oblates had known about the investigation sooner,” added Melanson. “The laws of the two countries differ greatly; France will not extradite their French nationals, especially when the statute of limitation has expired. In Canada, there is no statute of limitation on sexual assault offences.”

Denis' other significant conclusion was that “the Oblates in Canada and the ecclesiastical authorities in Nunavut neither concealed nor organized Joannès Rivoire’s ‘flight’ from Canada to France in 1993.” Thus, “they too were victims of his duplicity and prevarication” when he stated his need to return to his home country to care for his ailing parents.

In fact, Denis' report also indicated that “neither the 1998 complaints, nor the arrest warrant, nor any legal proceedings emanating from Nunavut were ever served on Joannès Rivoire or the Oblates.” The “RCMP had no communication with the Oblates, nor did they notify them of anything throughout the legal process. The same goes for the plaintiffs.”

However, the RCMP’s Sgt. Mark Hennigar of the Rankin Inlet Detachment did correspond in January 1999 via letters with Bishop Reynald Rouleau, who served the Churchill-Hudson Bay Diocese from 1987 to 2013. Rankin’s letter informed Rouleau that his office was investigating the allegations of assaults levied against Rivoire, and he requested the diocese’s help to pinpoint the Oblate’s location. Rouleau provided an address in Goult, France.

This was the lone time the RCMP dialogued with the diocese. Melanson stated that around that time, “the investigation into other possible victims was completed.” She wrote that the RCMP then “looked to (Public Prosecution Service of Canada) to request an extradition order and a red notice be issued. During the years from 1998 to 2017, no new complaints were made in relation to Rivoire; therefore, there was no expectation to investigate further.”

In 2017, the attorney general, who deemed that a trial in Canada was not foreseeable, halted legal proceedings and cancelled the arrest warrants against Rivoire. In August 2021, Plaintiff #5 filed her complaint, and within six months, a fresh arrest warrant was issued for Rivoire, who is 93.  

Surviving family members of plaintiff #3 complained to Denis that RCMP officers “are contemptuous and racist towards Inuit. They never take us seriously. They didn’t do anything until 1998, despite #3’s complaint.”

Melanson replied: “I can say that in reviewing the investigative file the matter was taken seriously. There was a lot of effort made to keep the victims informed and updated on the investigation. There was also a great deal of effort put into locating and interviewing other victims and possible victims of Rivoire who served in numerous communities in the territory.”

Skepticism is likely to endure against the RCMP and the Oblates despite Denis’ report absolving the order of aiding Rivoire fleeing Canada.  

Tungilik, the relative of one of Rivoire’s accusers, declared that she was “disappointed and angry that (Denis) says that the Oblates didn't know at all."

Denis said he expects “some will believe my report and others are convinced that there was a concerted effort with the Oblates in Canada and France to (help) in the escape of Rivoire. I only work on facts on paper, documents and (interviewing) many people. The (Oblate) provincial in Canada and his colleagues in Canada did not know that he assaulted youngsters. I’m quite sure of that.”

Thorson, on behalf of his congregation, expressed his “wish to apologize to anyone who was harmed under our watch” and his hope that “this report provides some validation for those who were silenced and ignored countless times by numerous institutions and authority figures across this country.” He added that OMI Lacombe has “has taken significant steps to develop and continually enhance our policy, Exercising Responsibility in Our Ministry: Safeguarding Minors & Vulnerable Persons, that sets processes and best practices to preserve the safety of minors and vulnerable persons.”

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