APTN - Aboriginal Peoples Television Network [Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada]
June 8, 2023
By Kathleen Martens
Eric Dejaeger is facing eight counts of historical sexual assault involving six Inuit children.
A defrocked Catholic priest and convicted sex offender made a brief court appearance in Iqaluit Thursday on historical sex charges involving six Inuit children.
Eric Dejaeger, 76, has twice been convicted of sex crimes against Inuit children in Nunavut.
He now faces eight more charges of sexual assault involving six alleged victims, said Sgt. Pauline Melanson of RCMP V Division in Iqaluit.
Dejaeger was shackled at the wrists and ankles while dressed in sweat pants and a sweater. He was seen nodding at defence lawyer Keir O’Flaherty, who requested a publication ban during the bail hearing.
The hearing was put over until June 27.
Dejaeger was flown to Nunavut on Wednesday after being arrested on a Canada-wide warrant in Kingston, Ont.
Melanson said the defrocked priest was living in the Henry Trail Community Correctional Centre – a halfway house for federal prisoners near the end of their sentence.
Dejaeger, who came to Canada from Belgium as a missionary with the Order of Mary Immaculate, left prison last June. He was freed early from a 19-year prison sentence on statutory release and living under conditions.
He was convicted in 2015 on 24 sex crimes from his time as a parish priest in Igloolik, Nunavut between 1978 and 1982. Prior to that, he served part of a five-year sentence for sex charges stemming from a posting in Baker Lake, Nunavut, between 1982 and 1989.
Melanson said the new charges stem from Dejaeger’s time as a parish priest in Igloolik, a small island just off the northwest coast of Baffin Island near the entrance to the Northwest Passage. It is home to about 2,000 people.
Fr. Ken Thorson, a spokesperson for OMI in English Canada, said he learned of Dejaeger’s new charges through the media.
“Dejaeger was living in a federal halfway house, away from the Oblate community,” Thorson said. “The Oblates of Mary Immaculate condemn any acts of sexual abuse, including those that Eric Dejaeger is alleged to have committed. At this point, we have not yet been contacted by police, but we are fully committed to cooperating with authorities as this process continues.
“Clergy abuse is a tragedy and we are deeply sorry to any survivors who have been harmed by Eric or any other Oblate, Catholic priest, or religious leader.”
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), an Inuit advocacy organization based in Iqaluit, said it would not comment on Dejaeger’s arrest and new charges.
NTI has been active in the case of another OMI missionary-turned-priest who fled Nunavut before criminal charges were laid against him.
It sent a delegation to France last September to lobby for the extradition of Joannes Rivoire, who also served in Igloolik as part of a 30-year Catholic mission in Nunavut. Rivoire also worked in Naujaat and Arviat.
Nunavut RCMP charged Rivoire, who is living in a church-run retirement home in Lyon, with one count of indecent assault last year after receiving a complaint from an Inuk woman who was six in 1974.
RCMP first charged Rivoire in 1998 with five counts of child sexual abuse in connection with accusations from 1968 to 1970. But those charges were stayed in 2017 after the federal Justice Department saw a low probability of conviction.
Pope Francis was asked to intervene in the Rivoire case when he visited Iqaluit last July as part of a short tour of Canada. The pontiff apologized for the Catholic church’s role in the notorious residential school system, where thousands of Indigenous children said they were emotionally, physically and sexually abused.