For Inuit delegates in France, facing alleged abuser together helped heal a deep wound

·3 min read
After an emotional few days in France, Steve Mapsalak speaks to reporters about his experience meeting with Johannes Rivoire. (Juanita Taylor/CBC - image credit)
After an emotional few days in France, Steve Mapsalak speaks to reporters about his experience meeting with Johannes Rivoire. (Juanita Taylor/CBC - image credit)

When Steve Mapsalak left the meeting with his alleged abuser on Wednesday, he felt a weight lift from inside him.

Mapsalak, one of the Inuit delegates from Nunavut who went to France this week to press for the extradition of ex-priest Johannes Rivoire, said Thursday the short-notice meeting with Rivoire brought memories flooding back to him.

It also gave him an opportunity to tell Rivoire face-to-face about the pain he and other delegates have gone through.

"It is still painful to have the memory when I see the building, the room [where the abuse happened]. And yet, when I was able to speak to him and share how deeply he had hurt us, I could feel that inside, the deep hurt I have carried for so long, some of it is lifted," Mapsalak said in Inuktitut Thursday.

Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., translated Mapsalak's words into English for a crowd of reporters.

"I will be returning to Canada, my community, a little bit lighter, to be back with my children," Mapsalak said.

He said he still feels Rivoire needs to be returned to Canada to face trial.

Juanita Taylor/CBC
Juanita Taylor/CBC

Tanya Tungilik, whose father Marius Tungilik had accused Rivoire of sexual abuse, said it was "liberating" to finally tell Rivoire the things she has wanted to say for so long.

She left the room as soon as she finished speaking to him, and wept. With those tears, weight lifted from her as well, she said.

"Just the relief, and the anger and everything — I let it all out. Cried my hardest," she said. "Saying what I needed to say to him meant everything to me."

Nunavut Tunngavik — the group that sent the delegation to France — has said it has a plane ticket to Canada ready for Rivoire if he chooses to return voluntarily. Rivoire has repeatedly said he has no intention of coming back to Canada and that he denies the charges of abusing Inuit children in the 1960s and 1970s.

Juanita Taylor/CBC
Juanita Taylor/CBC

Delegates met with Rivoire and other members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate on Wednesday in Lyon, France.

"Personally, I felt a great burden going into the room with Rivoire, wanting to articulate in a clear and persuasive manner how much it would mean for all of us if he would just get on the plane," said Kotierk.

"I did share with him that we have an airplane ticket for him to get on the plane on Friday with us and that we deserve the truth and he needs to face justice."

While France's justice ministry said Wednesday it was ready to respond to any request from Canada for "mutual legal assistance" in regard to Rivoire, Canada's justice department has yet to hear from France.

Canada's Justice Minister David Lametti said Thursday the Department of Justice "has not received any formal response from the French government."

Canada has made a request to France to extradite Rivoire on charges of sexual abuse, though France has said it has a longstanding "constitutional tradition" of not extraditing nationals.