Ottawa has asked France to extradite a priest accused of crimes against children in Nunavut, the federal justice minister confirmed Wednesday as Pope Francis continued his tour of Canada.
"Collaboration and co-operation are essential to addressing the shameful legacy of residential schools," Justice Minister David Lametti said in a written statement.
"We are working with Indigenous Peoples to advance the important work of reconciliation in Canada. I want to assure you that it is important to Canada and its international partners that serious crimes be fully investigated and prosecuted," he added.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said the Public Prosecution Service of Canada made the extradition request for Johannes Rivoire, but did not say when and provided no more details.
Pope Francis is expected to travel to Nunavut this week as part of his visit to Canada, where he apologized to survivors of residential schools. They were government-funded, church-operated institutions that Indigenous children were forced to attend and where thousands suffered abuse.
Inuit leaders have called on the pontiff to personally intervene in the case of Rivoire, who was in Canada from the early 1960s until 1993, when he returned to France.
The Mounties said Rivoire is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant related to a new sexual assault charge laid in February related to an allegation of sexual assault against a female individual.
The Nunavut RCMP has said officers received the complaint last year regarding sexual assaults alleged to have occurred about 47 years ago.
Rivoire 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, but the charges were stayed in 2017. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said then it was partly due to France's reluctance to extradite.
In March, Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he had asked the Pope during a meeting in the Vatican to speak with Rivoire directly and ask him to go to Canada to face the new charge. Obed said he also asked the Pope to request that France step in if Rivoire is not receptive.
On Wednesday, the French Embassy confirmed that Canada's judicial authorities had sent an extradition request for Rivoire to France. The embassy said the French Justice Ministry is currently processing the request and has asked Canadian officials for more information.
Lametti did not provided more details about the extradition request, but noted in his statement that it is unusual for him to comment even on whether one has been made.
"Extradition requests are regarded as confidential state-to-state communications, and as minister, I normally cannot comment on whether a particular extradition request has been made," Lametti said. "However, I am aware of the fact of an extradition request transmitted to France has been made public, which my departmental officials have now confirmed."
Pope Francis is expected to visit Iqaluit on Friday, the last day of his visit to Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.
— with files from Kelly Geraldine Malone
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press