Belgian activist determined to see next fugitive priest brought to justice
Lieve Halsberghe inspired by a promise to the late Marius Tungilik
Belgian activist Lieve Halsberghe tracked down the disgraced Belgian priest Eric Dejaeger and helped bring him to trial in Nunavut.
Now, she’s going after another priest accused of historic sex crimes — because of a promise she made to the late Marius Tungilik, whose lifelong struggle with childhood trauma finally ended a year ago, in December 2012, with his sudden death.
“I wanted to go to France to confront this man with this before [Joannis Rivoire] dies because that’s a promise I made to Marius,” Halsberghe said.
Fugitive priest Father Joannis Rivoire faces four charges related to his time spent in Nunavut starting in the 1960s. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 1998, but not much has happened since.
Halsberghe’s work publicizing Rivoire’s arrest warrant prompted Nunavut RCMP to release a statement Nov. 28, reiterating that Rivoire is still wanted.
But Halsberghe won’t be satisfied until Rivoire is “brought to justice.”
Halsberghe met Tungilik, widely recognized as a important contributor to the creation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the last time she visited Iqaluit when Dejaeger had been extradited from Belgium to Nunavut.
Tungilik attended the notorious Sir Joseph Bernier residential school in Chesterfield Inlet and was one of the first Inuit to speak out about the sexual, physical and mental abuses he suffered there.
In 2011, Tungilik told Halsberghe that he went to the RCMP in the 1990s to submit a complaint against Rivoire. He then told her that the Government of the Northwest Territories had lost his file.
Rivoire travelled from church to church in the North starting in the 1960s. He was a missionary in Chesterfield Inlet in 1960, then a missionary in Igloolik until 1965. He then worked in Repulse Bay until 1969.
From the 1970s onwards, Rivoire is believed to have worked in Churchill, Repulse Bay, Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet and Arviat — until he returned to his native France in 1993.
Eric Dejaeger — who Rivoire worked with briefly in Baker Lake — was sentenced to five years in prison in 1990 for sexual abuse stemming from incidents in Baker Lake.
In 1995, Dejaeger left Canada for Belgium, even though new charges were still pending against him, only to return in 2011. His six-week trial is ongoing as of Dec. 4.
Rivoire, however, remains in France where he lives in the Avignon region.
Contacted recently by a Canadian Press reporter, Rivoire is quoted as saying he is “not willing” to come back to Canada to face charges.
“I am old. I am sick,” Rivoire told Bob Weber of Canadian Press.
Nunatsiaq News tried to contact Rivoire, but he has not responded.
“The fact that Rivoire is out there, free, living freely, is very disturbing,” Halsberghe said.
“I’ve talked to Marius’ friends, who have said he was abused and everyone says that also Rivoire should be brought to justice in Canada,” Halsberghe said.
Tungilik’s older sister, Theresie, once remembered Rivoire as a family friend. She becomes emotional when she thinks of her brother’s struggle dealing with the impact of abuse at residential school.
“He never talked to me about the Chesterfield Inlet thing,” Theresie Tungilik said.
“Every time I tried to bring it up he would just hang up on me. It made me feel so useless after he died,” she said.
She remembers the pain her brother felt leading up to his untimely death. She said Marius “drank lots to forget.”
“It got to a point where he couldn’t even sleep in the dark. And as smart as he was, he still was like a little scared child,” Theresie said.
“When he passed away I immediately pointed a finger at the Catholic Church for cutting his life short,” she said.
Halsberghe is urging Rivoire to come back to Canada.
“Get on a plane to Canada and face what you have done, face your people,” Halsberghe said.
Nunavut RCMP spokesperson Yvonne Niego said that, “if he returns to Canada, he will be arrested and brought before justice.”
Right now, no warrant has been issued by the international police organization, Interpol.