Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 23, 2014 - 2:06 pm

Adjourned but still not over — Eric Dejaeger trial to resume March 17

Crown hoping to introduce Dejaeger's criminal record as evidence

DAVID MURPHY

The trial of Eric Dejaeger has been adjourned until March 17 so Crown prosecutors can make a legal case for introducing the accused’s criminal record as evidence.

If the court deems that Dejaeger has put his character in jeopardy, then the Crown can further explore impeaching the character of the accused based on details of those previous convictions.

Because such evidence can be highly prejudicial to an accused person, Crown lawyers can’t introduce it until after they first persuade a judge that the value of such evidence outweighs its prejudicial effects.

To do that, Crown attorney Doug Curliss must review the transcript of Dejaeger’s testimony — and that takes time.

And so on Jan. 23, Kilpatrick reluctantly adjourned the case to March, but warned lawyers to be ready to wrap up their arguments when the trial resumes.

“Mr. Dejaeger has been in custody for a significant period of time,” Kilpatrick said.

Dejaeger has been serving time in pre-trial custody at Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit since January 2011.

Dejaeger, a 66-year-old Belgian who gave up citizenship shortly after coming to Canada to become a priest in the 1970s, originally faced 80 charges related to his time as a priest in Igloolik from 1978 to 1982, most of them sex-related crimes against children.

He pleaded guilty to eight charges against eight male complainants at the beginning of the trial in November 2013 and Kilpatrick later dismissed four charges for lack of evidence so that leaves 68 charges for the judge to rule on.

The Crown called 42 witnesses to the stand, but Dejaeger was the only person to testify for the defence.

The Crown will resume Dejaeger’s cross-examination when the trial continues in March, when the two sides can deliver their closing arguments to Kilpatrick, who is presiding over the trial alone, with no jury, at Iqaluit’s Nunavut Court of Justice.

Kilpatrick dismissed the option of saving court time by allowing written final submissions. He said that has not worked well in the past, because it restricts the right of an open courtroom and makes the verdict vulnerable to appeal.

“It’s going to be done properly, in an open courtroom, with Mr. Dejaeger present,” Kilpatrick said.

He said the trial still needs a week, starting March 17, to “tie up loose ends.”

“It will be over that week,” Kilpatrick warned the lawyers. “All evidence must be in.”

There was also an issue with the court reporter that delayed proceedings this time around, Kilpatrick said.

“Call it what you will — an act of God — but the court reporter is violently ill and cannot submit a transcript,” Kilpatrick said.

Before court adjourned for the day, Curliss continued his cross-examination of the accused, asking Dejaeger which of the complainants he remembered from his time in Igloolik.

Curliss listed off 38 names, sometimes stumbling over the Inuktitut pronunciation, which caused Kilpatrick to smile.

Dejaeger said he remembered all but seven. For those, he only remembered their names. 

Curliss then asked more about Dejaeger’s role as a priest and counsellor for the people that were a part of his congregation

Dejaeger said his job as a priest was a “package deal” — whether that meant doing the dishes, being a mechanic or counselling people.

“In the olden days, they used to pull teeth too — do everything.”

Dejaeger assured the court that priests would refer the person to a dentist if that did occur, however.

Curliss also asked about witness testimony regarding sleepovers in Dejaeger’s room at the Igloolik church.

Dejaeger said he only had one sleepover but did not sexually assault any children at that time.

One witness, Nicole Arnatsiaq, a religion teacher in Igloolik while Dejaeger was a priest — known then as Nicole Tessier — said she saw children in Dejaeger’s room at the St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

Curliss asked Dejaeger if she had been mistaken.

“That’s right,” Dejaeger said.

Dejaeger also said that when he abused eight little boys, he didn’t view his actions as violence — “no definitely not,” he said. 

Curliss asked if he thought his sexual acts were considered violent now.

“Mhmm, yeah,” Dejaeger replied.

In Dejaeger’s last appearance, he looked and sounded calm — speaking in a relaxed voice with a Flemish accent.

He would sometimes touch his nose, lick his lips and gesture with his left hand to explain himself during cross-examination while leaning left in the witness box, facing the Crown.

He will now return to the Baffin Correctional Centre, where he’ll remain for at least two more months.

 

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