Nunavut court: pedophile ex-priest Eric Dejaeger guilty on 24 counts
Court will likely pass sentence January 2015 on 32 convictions
(Updated 1:30 p.m., Sept. 12)
The man the Belgian press called “Pater Pedo,” ex-priest Eric Dejaeger, 67, is guilty on 24 of the 68 charges he stood trial on at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, Justice Robert Kilpatrick ruled Sept. 12 in a massive 212-page judgment.
Combined with the eight indecent assault charges he pleaded guilty to this past November at the start of his trial, this means Dejaeger is guilty on 32 counts, most involving the sexual molestation of Inuit children in Igloolik between 1976 and 1982.
Kilpatrick convicted him on 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.
Dejaeger, who originally faced 80 charges, will likely be sentenced early next year, following a sentencing hearing in Iqaluit scheduled to start Jan. 19, 2015.
Prosecutor Doug Curliss said the Crown will likely need about three days of court time to present its sentencing submission, which will include time to read victim impact statements from complainants involved in the charges that Dejaeger is convicted on.
Kilpatrick said the case is already “stale” and must be concluded.
“This court would not look favourably on any further delays,” Kilpatrick said.
Dejaeger also faces charges in Edmonton related to his time at Newman Theological College.
His defence lawyer, Malcolm Kempt, said those are likely to be wrapped up early next year.
Dejaeger’s sentencing this January will close a lengthy saga that began in 1995, when — on the advice of his lawyer at the time — he fled Canada for Belgium.
On Feb. 19, 1995, Cpl. Tom Power, then an RCMP member stationed in Igloolik, laid three counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery against Dejaeger following a lengthy investigation related to incidents alleged to have occurred between 1978 and 1982 in and around the Roman Catholic mission in Igloolik.
Dejaeger was scheduled to appear in court to face those charges on June 19, 1995.
But Dejaeger, still an Oblate priest at the time, never made it to court.
After serving out a five-year prison sentence that Justice Ted Richard had imposed in 1990, following his conviction on nine sex charges from the late 1980s involving children in Baker Lake, Dejaeger fled to Belgium.
He remained in Europe for the next 15 years. His Belgian Oblate overseers gave him a variety of assignments, including duties as a Flemish language tour guide for groups of students visiting the famous shrine at Lourdes in southern France.
In 2010, amidst a series of sexual abuse scandals involving Belgian priests, journalist Douglas De Coninck exposed Dejaeger in an article published in the Flemish-language De Morgen newspaper.
He did this with the help of a lengthy dossier on Dejaeger compiled by Godelieve Halsberghe, a retired magistrate who had headed an internal commission of inquiry into sex crimes by Belgian priests.
Her niece, Lieve Halsberghe, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, lobbied incessantly to have Dejaeger returned to Canada.
She also alleged that Oblate officials had acted to protect Dejaeger from Canadian justice and deliberately ignored the serious charges that he faced in Nunavut.
But in 2010, a Belgian journalist unearthed long-suppressed information: Dejaeger was not a Belgian citizen, having renounced his citizenship with that country years earlier when he became a Canadian.
Canadian authorities therefore avoided a lengthy extradition hearing and the Belgian government expelled Dejaeger and sent him back to Canada after discovering he had lived illegally in Belgium for years.
He arrived in Montreal Jan. 19, 2011 and was brought to Nunavut to face a list of charges that at one point grew to 80 counts, mostly sex charges related to his time in Igloolik, involving 41 complainants.
At the start of his trial in November 2013, Dejaeger pleaded guilty to eight counts and not guilty to another 68.
The trial continued until mid-December of 2013, then resumed in March 2014. Following another adjournment, lawyers gave Kilpatrick their final arguments at the end of May 2014.
In his judgment, Kilpatrick struggled with the issue of childhood memory and how to assess the credibility of witnesses who gave evidence in court on events that occurred many years ago, when they were young children.
“The very dated allegations in this case require the Court to focus on the memory retrieval process as part of its assessment of evidence reliability. This makes the Court’s task significantly more difficult,” Kilpatrick said in his judgment.
Kilpatrick included a lengthy discussion of reclaimed memory in his judgment — and he said he wished the Crown had called an expert witness to help him with this issue.
“Judges and juries do not possess divine insight into the soul of witnesses who testify in a legal proceeding. Decisions must be made on the basis of evidence alone, not intuition or guesswork,” Kilpatrick said.
But in the case of complainants whose evidence in court appeared to be consistent, reliable and detailed, Kilpatrick made findings of guilt.
For example, one man, who was a boy when Dejaeger abused him, testified that Dejaeger anally raped him and also had sex with a dog.
“The sequence of events described by [the complainant] is both logical and complete. The evidence is internally consistent. There are no obvious gaps in this memory, at least in so far as the traumatic events were concerned,” Kilpatrick said.