Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut January 23, 2014 - 10:35 am

Dejaeger tells Crown he didn’t believe his child molesting was wrong

“I wouldn’t do it right now, like, in hindsight”

Wearing pink handcuffs, Eric Dejaeger steps out of an RCMP vehicle Jan. 20 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)
Wearing pink handcuffs, Eric Dejaeger steps out of an RCMP vehicle Jan. 20 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Father Eric Dejaeger didn’t think he was doing anything wrong when he groped eight young boys in his bedroom at St. Stephen’s Catholic church in Igloolik more than three decades ago.

But he told Crown prosecutors he now knows it was wrong.

That was Dejaeger’s story on the afternoon of Jan. 22, when Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss pressed him on why the former Oblate priest sexually molested eight boys, related to eight separate charges he pleaded guilty to on day one of the trial.

Dejaeger said all eight occurrences were “incidents of opportunity.”

On Jan. 21, Dejaeger said each one of the sexual assaults had happened the same way — with the boys wandering upstairs, alone, with no supervisor in the church other than Dejaeger.

“He came up to see most probably what’s going on,” Dejaeger said.

The boys would all pester Dejaeger — poking around his desk while he worked. Then, Dejaeger said he “reacted.”

“It was more of a time to move him out, and that’s when I grabbed him,” Dejaeger said about one incident.

Then Dejaeger said he “squeezed” seven of the boys’ genitals. For one of the eight boys, he said he squeezed his buttocks. All the touching happened outside the pants, Dejaeger insists.

Dejaeger said he wasn’t feeling for a penis or testicles but said, “I knew what was there.”

Curliss wanted to know why he did it.

“There was no reason for doing that,” Dejaeger said.

Did he enjoy touching the boys?

“Not really, no. Just did it,” he said.

Dejaeger said the boys would just stand there, not moving, while he touched them. He said they did not fight or resist or speak while he did it.

Not only did Dejaeger deny experiencing any gratification while touching the boys, he denied getting an erection while committing the crimes.

In fact, Dejaeger likened the eight squeezes to the boys’ genitals as a sign of affection — albeit the “wrong way of showing affection,” he said.

Curliss asked him if he thought his actions were inappropriate at the time.

“No. I just didn’t think that way,” Dejaeger said. “It was just a thing you did, like ruffle hair or squeeze a cheek.”

Curliss questioned why he wouldn’t touch the children around other people.

“I dunno,” Dejaeger said.

“As I’m sitting here today, it’s wrong,” Dejaeger said.

Curliss continued to press him.

The Crown asked why he believes today that his actions were wrong, but not over 30 years ago.

The courtroom fell silent for 20 seconds. Four benches filled with spectators held their breath, waiting for a response.

Dejaeger broke the silence. 

“It’s just something that just happened. You don’t think about it,” Dejaeger said. 

“I wouldn’t do it right now, like, in hindsight.”

Curliss asked if, at the time, he didn’t see his actions as being indecent or sexual.

“That’s right,” Dejaeger said.

Curliss, again, asked Dejaeger if he thought what he was doing at the time was “completely unimportant.”

“Yeah,” Dejaeger said.

Dejaeger said one of the reasons he touched the boys was to shoo them out of his room.

Curliss then wondered why, if Dejaeger didn’t have a problem with touching a boy’s penis to rid him of his room, “Why didn’t you punch him in the face?”

Dejaeger said “that’s violence,” and he’s not a violent person.

Curliss then asked why he didn’t touch the boys under their clothes.

“Where did you learn not to do that?” Curliss said.

“I don’t know,” Dejaeger said.

“Life experience?” Curliss asked.

“Yes. Could say so,” Dejaeger replied.

Curliss moved on and asked Dejaeger about his escape from Canada to Belgium after charges stemming from his time in Igloolik were first laid.

Dejaeger had already been convicted of sex crimes. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1990 for nine counts of sexual abuse that occurred when he was a priest in Baker Lake.

After he had served out that sentence, new charges arose against him related to his time in Igloolik, but instead of facing them in court, Dejaeger fled Canada in 1995.

Dejaeger told the court that he met with his lawyer, John Scurfield, when charges were laid.

Dejaeger said he couldn’t face another stint in prison — reiterating what he said Jan. 21 when he told his defence lawyer, Malcolm Kempt, that he did not want to go back to jail.

Dejaeger said Scurfield hinted that he should flee the country.

Scurfield told Dejaeger, “‘When you arrive in Belgium, send me a postcard,’” Dejaeger said, recounting his former lawyer’s words.

When in Belgium, Dejaeger said news organizations finally found out about his charges more than a decade and a half later. 

Belgian police told Dejaeger to come to a police station each week so they could check up on him. Dejaeger had not been put under arrest, however, because he had not committed any crimes in Belgium.

But the Belgian government discovered that Dejaeger no longer held Belgian citizenship and that he was a Canadian citizen.

He was returned to Canada in 2011.

After five hours on the stand, Dejaeger returned to his lawyer’s bench, removed his glasses, and rubbed his two index fingers onto the balls of his eyes in exhaustion.

The Crown’s cross-examination of Dejaeger continues Jan. 23.

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