Crown ends case against priest in Arctic sex abuse case

IQALUIT, Nunavut - The Crown's case against a former northern priest facing 80 charges of sex abuse against Inuit children has ended after weeks of wrenching testimony from Eric Dejaeger's alleged victims.

A total of 42 witnesses were called, many from the tiny Nunavut community of Igloolik, where Dejaeger was posted as an Oblate missionary between 1978 and 1982. Dejaeger's accusers sobbed their way through much of the testimony.


One woman described how, as a girl of 12, she was taped to a bed and sodomized. Other witnesses told how Dejaeger forced them to watch him commit acts of bestiality.

Another said that Dejaeger raped her and, after she tried unsuccessfully to clean off the blood from her injuries, set her down on a couch over which he had draped garbage bags to prevent staining.

Many in the witness box pushed their bodies as far as possible from Dejaeger, who sat only a few metres from them. It was common for testimony to be given over the sound of loud sobs and wailing from outside court from those who had just told their story.

Judge Robert Kilpatrick has several times allowed the unusual measure of allowing a witness to face the now white-haired and bearded Dejaeger and speak to him.

"I forgive you, Eric, for what you did to me," one woman said this week. "I hope God forgives you, too."

Dejaeger was originally facing 76 charges. One charge was added the first day of the trial and three additional charges were added last week. He has pleaded guilty to eight charges.

Dejaeger's defence is scheduled to begin Jan. 20. Four days have been set aside.

The defendant may testify on his own behalf. Defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt has said in court that the only witness he could call would be Dejaeger himself.

Kempt has said the memory and credibility of alleged victims about events 30 years ago are key to Dejaeger's defence. He's also questioned witnesses about out-of-court settlements given out by the Catholic Church.

The former priest was originally charged in 1995 with three counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery, a charge no longer in the Criminal Code.

But he left the country and returned to his homeland of Belgium before his court appearance. Belgian officials sent him back in January 2011 when they discovered he was living there illegally.

The Belgian Oblates, the Catholic missionary order that sent Dejaeger to several communities in what is now Nunavut, dismissed him from the priesthood in December 2011. He remains a member of the congregation.

The number of counts against Dejaeger didn't balloon until the late 1990s, when more alleged victims from Igloolik began coming forward. New charges were still being laid after his return to Canada.

Kilpatrick is hearing the case alone without a jury.


Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version referenced a total of 11 new charges.