Nunavut ex-priest’s lawyer alleges witnesses colluded against him
Crown asks judge to allow similar fact evidence; proceedings delayed until May 26
Defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt says if he needed to write a textbook about witness collusion, he would focus on the Eric Dejaeger trial.
In what might be a foreshadowing of his final arguments in the trial, Kempt said there is an “outright certainty” that complainants fixed their stories before they testified at the Belgian ex-priest’s trial at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.
Dejaeger’s lawyer made the comments in court March 20 in response to a Crown application that seeks to allow similar fact evidence in the trial.
Similar fact evidence uses each complainant’s testimony to corroborate testimony made by other complainants.
Dejaeger faces 68 charges related to his time as a priest in Igloolik from 1978 to 1982, most of them sex-related crimes against children.
Kempt is opposing the Crown’s application, suggesting collusion between witnesses. He gave dozens of examples of interactions witnesses had before the trial began last November.
Strong words issued from the bench as well March 20.
Justice Kilpatrick grilled Crown prosecutor Barry Nordin on why he didn’t call an expert witness to explain how memories of past trauma can resurface.
As a result, Kilpatrick said he has very little information and expertise to help him wade through the evidence.
“And that concerns me,” Kilpatrick said.
Kempt was more than willing to offer the judge his point of view.
Kempt said rumours fly in small communities in the North, and Igloolik is no different. “The whole community is tainted.”
He said 11 people travelled to Iqaluit to see Dejaeger in January 2011 when he was first brought back to Canada from Belgium, for example.
Those complainants discussed their stories of sexual abuse amongst each other — some even admitting as much on the witness stand.
Media coverage since Dejaeger returned to Canada in 2011 has been extensive and Kempt said more accusations of sexual abuse poured in thereafter.
At one point, messages were broadcast on Igloolik local radio about a lawyer, who was helping victims seek compensation from the Catholic Church, who wanted to speak with victims of Eric Dejaeger.
Some witnesses testified at trial that the lawyer compensated victims with thousands of dollars.
People pressured others into telling police about abuses, Kempt added. Others were “reminded” of what happened to them.
Kempt said some witnesses admitted during cross-examination that they were told to “make sure [they] mentioned Eric fucking a dog.”
“We have this tangled web of all these complainants,” and they’re “all examples of collusion,” Kempt said.
Kempt also said stories given by complainants on the witness stand have become more detailed than their sworn statements to police.
Nordin said complainants weren’t told to remember more — they simply remembered more. And the court has to take their testimony at face value.
There is no direct evidence that groups came together and discussed their stories, he added.
And any suggestion of a “grandiose scheme or conspiracy to concoct evidence” is “speculative to the nth degree,” Nordin said.
Kilpatrick will deliver his decision on the similar fact evidence application at a later date.
The trial, which began Nov. 18, 2013, is now adjourned for a third time and is set to resume May 26.
Dejaeger was visibly upset when the date was announced in court. He has been in pre-trial custody since January 2011.