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 stemming from a complaint received last year. The victim was a child at the time of the offence, which happened between 1974 and 1979.
“Heartbreaking to see this grave injustice continue,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said in a tweet Thursday.
While Canada and France share an extradition treaty, a Wednesday news release from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said French authorities indicated the request was denied because under its law, France is prohibited from extraditing its own citizens.
France determined that Rivoire was a citizen of that country at the relevant time, the release said.
France also said that, under French law, too much time had passed between the events and the charges being laid. The release said France would also not be pursuing charges domestically for that reason.
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.
A group representing Nunavut Inuit travelled to France last month to call for extradition.
The 10-member delegation led by Nunavut Tunnagivik Inc. met with French and church officials.
They also met with Rivoire himself to try and persuade the priest to fly back 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 at the time it was like coming face-to-face with “the monster.”
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.
—By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press