Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 17, 2014 - 2:15 pm

Defence to begin its case Jan. 20 in trial of former Nunavut priest Eric Dejaeger

Crown expecting Dejaeger to take the stand in his defence

DAVID MURPHY
An RCMP member escorts Eric Dejaeger into the Nunavut Court of Justice building in Iqaluit, in an undated file photo from his trial last fall. (FILE PHOTO)
An RCMP member escorts Eric Dejaeger into the Nunavut Court of Justice building in Iqaluit, in an undated file photo from his trial last fall. (FILE PHOTO)

With their case completed, Crown prosecutors expect that Eric Dejaeger will take the stand in his own defence when his trial at the Nunavut Court of Justice building in Iqaluit resumes Monday, Jan. 20.

The Catholic priest is accused of sex crimes against Inuit children alleged to have occurred through the late 1970s and early 1980s in Igloolik.

“I’m only guessing what they’ll do. But as far as I know, they’re going to start calling evidence,” said Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss, adding he had been informed by defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt that Dejaeger would appear as a witness.

“The defence lawyer has told us he will. But that was what he told us back in December,” Curliss said.

The judge-only trial began Nov. 18 and adjourned Dec. 12 after the Crown wrapped up its case.

During that time, the court heard 42 witnesses who set out, in great detail, the breadth and depth of the sexual abuse alleged in the case.

Dejaeger now faces a total of 80 charges — eight of which he has pleaded guilty to. That total grew after the trial started when four new charges were added to the original 76.

One new complainant came forward at the beginning of the trial resulting in one new charge. Another three charges arose from existing complainants, bringing the total to 80.

The trial, at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, is expected to last another four days, but Curliss warned that a lot must be done before Justice Robert Kilpatrick delivers a verdict.

“The defence has an opportunity to call their case and there may or may not be reply evidence by the prosecution,” Curliss said.

And waiting for a judge’s decision might take “weeks, if not months,” Curliss said.

During the five-week adjournment over Christmas, Curliss, along with the other two lawyers on the Crown’s team, Scott Hughes and Barry Nordin, were readying themselves for the next phase of the trial.

“There’s preparing to deal with the defence case. There’s all kinds of things. There’s going through the various laws and legal principles in this particular case,” Curliss said.

“It’s reviewing the transcripts, because many, many witnesses testified,” he said.

“And we’re going to have to make submissions to the judge with respect to guilty or not guilty and that requires going through all of the transcripts.”

During the Crown’s case, Kilpatrick heard countless stories of alleged sex abuse.

On day one of the trial, witnesses told stories of child rape, bestiality — and defecation as a means to escape sexual assault.

Other witnesses later accused Dejaeger of setting up sleeping bags for “camping” sessions  in a church bedroom at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Igloolik.

One of the last witnesses to testify before Christmas was 93-year-old Father Robert Lechat, who worked as head priest at the Igloolik church. Lechat said he only found out about Dejaeger’s sexual abuse of children in 1989.

Dejaeger has already been convicted of sex crimes. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1990 for nine counts of sexual abuse stemming from when he was a priest in Baker Lake.

After serving time, new charges arose against him related to his tenure in Igloolik, but instead of facing them in court, Dejaeger fled Canada in 1995. 

A native of Belgium, Dejaeger gave up his Belgian citizenship to become a Canadian citizen in the 1970s, studied at Newman Theological College in Edmonton and became a Roman Catholic priest.

Once ordained, the young priest moved to Igloolik and lived there from 1978 to about 1982. He then left for Baker Lake, and stayed there until about 1989.

Dejaeger spent time in Belgium but in late 2010, with charges still pending against him in Canada, the Belgian government discovered that he was a fugitive and no longer a citizen of their country. They flew him back to Canada in January of 2011.

Police arrested him once he arrived on Canadian soil and transferred him to Nunavut. He has been in custody here ever since.

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