A defrocked Arctic priest was sentenced to 19 years in prison for dozens of horrendous sex offences against Inuit children, while his victims received a plea from the sentencing judge.
“Your anger must be put aside,” Justice Robert Kilpatrick told the victims of Eric Dejaeger in his written decision released Wednesday. “Your trust in others must be restored. You must learn to rely on the good around you.
“Despite what has happened to you, there is still much good in people.”
Dejaeger’s acts took place 35 years ago in the remote Nunavut community of Igloolik where he was an Oblate missionary. The details of the 32 convictions are so appalling, Kilpatrick’s sentencing judgment comes with a warning of graphic content.
His crimes, committed between 1978 and 1982, included indecent assault, unlawful confinement, buggery, unlawful sexual intercourse and bestiality.
The victims include 12 boys, 10 girls and one dog. Most were between the ages of eight and 12, although they could have been as young as four and as old as 18.
Many testified at trial that Dejaeger, now 67, trapped them into sex by threatening them with hellfire or separation from their families if they told. Sometimes he dangled food in front of hungry children as a lure.
During victims impact statements, witnesses described permanent mental and physical scars.
One man said that the smell of moldy wood still takes him back to the mission’s boiler room where Dejaeger raped him. A woman told court she blames Dejaeger for the scars that have been diagnosed on her womb. Many spoke of lingering anger and depression and of attempts to flee those feelings through booze and drugs.
Kilpatrick wrote that such damage calls out for a harsh sentence – especially in a territory where high rates of sexual abuse blight many lives.
“An exemplary sentence is needed to reflect not only the high moral blameworthiness associated with the crimes, but to denounce and deter sexual offences against children and adolescents in Nunavut,” he wrote.
“Your selfishness has devastated a generation of young Roman Catholic parishioners in Igloolik,” he wrote. “For many victims, the commission of your offence has marked the end of living and the beginning of their survival.”
In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto lawyer Elizabeth Grace says sadly, this is not the first case of clergy sexual abuse of vulnerable children in a remote community.
“What we can expect to see now in Nunavut are civil claims for compensation by the victims of former Oblate missionary Dejaeger, and not just those victims in relation to whom Dejaeger has been criminally convicted,” says Grace, who represents victims of sexual assault in civil cases.
Grace explains that all those who came forward with abuse charges in the criminal proceedings may seek compensation through the civil courts, including those for whom there was no finding of guilt and conviction.
“While a conviction on the criminal standard of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ is determinative of wrongdoing in a civil lawsuit, where the standard of proof is the lower one of proof ‘on a balance of probabilities,’ an acquittal on criminal charges is irrelevant in a civil lawsuit,” says Grace. “This is because the acquittal only means there was a reasonable doubt which did not allow for a conviction and not that the accused person is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Grace, who has experience representing groups of clients who were sexually abused in childhood by a single predator, notes “there may be more victims who have yet to come forward, or will choose only to come forward in a civil lawsuit where they can exercise more control as parties to the lawsuit than they could if they were simply complainant witnesses in a criminal case run by the Crown and in which the accused’s rights are paramount.”
Grace says with well-established precedents of high authority in which Canadian courts have found religious organizations vicariously liable for the sexual misconduct of their clergy, the victims of Dejaeger are likely to have viable civil claims for compensation against the Oblates who assigned Dejaeger to do their missionary work in Inuit communities in Nunavut.
“Compensation may help some victims and their families, and even assist their communities, all of whom have no doubt suffered tremendous harm and losses as a result of Dejaeger’s extensive sexual misconduct,” says Grace, a partner with Lerners LLP.
Dejaeger received eight years worth of credit for time served and will spend no more than 11 years in jail for these offences. Although his lawyer told the judge that his client feared dying in prison, Kilpatrick said Corrections Canada is capable of dealing with Dejaeger’s health concerns.
Dejaeger has already served one five-year sentence on 11 counts of assaulting children in Baker Lake, Nunavut.
In 1995, after he had served that sentence, he learned RCMP were about to charge him with the Igloolik offences and fled to his native Belgium.
Oblate officials have acknowledged that they knew Dejaeger was about to depart. Dejaeger testified Canadian justice officials told him the easiest thing would be for him to quietly leave.
For 16 years, he lived in homes maintained by the Oblates despite an international warrant for his arrest. Eventually, journalists revealed he was living in Belgium. He was returned to Canada in 2011.
He still faces four sex abuse counts in Edmonton.