Nunavut court: After nearly four decades, Dejaeger’s victims have their say
“I am a survivor. I persist.”
(Updated 4:15 p.m., Jan. 19)
After waiting nearly four decades, more than two dozen middle-aged Inuit sexual abuse victims from Igloolik and Kugaaruk filed into an Iqaluit courtroom Jan. 19 to begin describing how ex-priest Eric Dejaeger scarred their hearts and deformed their lives.
“Sometimes I would take showers to get the dirt off, the shame and dirty feelings, but I couldn’t get it off me,” one woman told the court, weeping as she spoke.
Dejaeger, 67, a former Oblate missionary, is guilty of 32 sex crimes against Inuit children he molested between 1976 and 1982
He entered guilty pleas to eight of those in November 2013. Following a long trial that ran from Nov. 18, 2013 until May 28, 2014, Justice Robert Kilpatrick of the Nunavut Court Justice found him guilty on 24 charges.
That included many counts of indecent assault on boys and girls, four counts of buggery, one count of bestiality with a dog, one count of forcible confinement, and one count of sexual assault.
Lawyers returned to court this week to start a lengthy sentencing hearing that began with numerous victim impact statements, most of them from Igloolik residents who flew to Iqaluit.
Crown lawyers Doug Curliss and Barry Nordin read most of the written statements into the record on behalf of the victims, who sat in the gallery and listened.
Support workers and family members read statements for some people, and one woman walked to the microphone at the front of the courtroom to read her own statement.
“I don’t trust a man around my son,” the woman said. “I couldn’t trust seeing any man around kids.”
Another woman, in her mid-40s, said that after Dejaeger abused her, she left school at an early age — and now she can’t read or write.
A 44-year-old man described how the emotional impact of Dejaeger’s abuse damaged his adult relationships, saying “I always suspected my wife of cheating on me.”
“I want him put away for a long time with no parole,” the man said.
Another man, aged 47, said Dejaeger’s crimes destroyed his faith in religion.
“I don’t trust priests and I have a hard time believing in any faith or religion,” he said.
And a 42-year-old man said the Roman Catholic church should be made accountable at its highest level.
“I want the Vatican to be held responsible for all the suffering,” he said.
The court heard much more from the same 42-year-old in the afternoon, when Nordin read another section of the man’s statement that he had inadvertently left out in the morning.
He said Dejaeger — who he called “a fake priest” — sodomized him inside the boiler room at the Catholic mission in Igloolik, an act that inflicted lasting emotional and physical damage.
After that attack, the man said his anus was aching and bleeding. And to this day, the man has trouble defecating and suffers from hemorrhoids.
“I may never forgive him but I feel sorry for him,” the man said. “I am a survivor. I persist.”
But another 47-year-old man suggested that he has put Dejaeger’s abuse behind him.
“I have forgiven him. I will not let him control my life with what he did,” the man said.
A Jan. 19 Canadian North flight carrying more victims from Igloolik to Iqaluit was cancelled, so court was to have resumed Jan. 20 to hear more impact statements.
Kilpatrick said final sentencing arguments from lawyers will start Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 9:30 p.m. and take up one day to about a day and a half of court time.
After hearing those arguments, it’s likely that Kilpatrick will reserve judgment until a later date.
Five uniformed members of the sheriff’s detail stood guard at the main entrance to the court house building before proceedings started.
As a long queue of spectators, victims and people waiting for court appearances in other rooms lined up to get in, the guards searched handbags and coat pockets, and screened people with metal detectors.
Dejaeger, who arrived through another entrance, walked into the court room with a slight limp, clad in standard prison-issue blue sweatshirt and sweat pants.