Curtain closing on former Nunavut priest’s long, sordid trial
“These allegations might sell newspapers, but they’re not the truth”
The final installment of the Eric Dejaeger trial began May 26 with Dejaeger’s defence lawyer, Malcolm Kempt, destroying the credibility of dozens of witnesses by suggesting they lied, colluded and fabricated absurd stories at the seven-month trial.
Justice Robert Kilpatrick, who is presiding over the trial without a jury at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, has so far heard a multitude of stories about child rape, inappropriate touching and even bestiality — the bulk of which allegedly occurred at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Igloolik between 1978 and 1982.
But most of these stories never happened, argues Kempt.
“These allegations might sell newspapers, but they’re not the truth,” he told Kilpatrick.
From the outset of his final arguments, Kempt admitted Dejaeger is, in fact, a sex offender.
Dejaeger pleaded guilty to eight counts of indecent assault against young boys on day one of the trial which began in November 2013.
Dejaeger is a Belgian-born former priest who became a Canadian citizen and, for many years, practiced his faith in northern Canada.
In his final arguments to Kilpatrick, Kempt attempted to separate truth from fiction, saying Dejaeger is not “some kind of evil monster” and that most of the “outrageous, violent offences” heard from the complainants are pure fiction.
The defence lawyer is asking that his client be acquitted on the remaining 68 charges.
Dejaeger was “firm and frank” on the stand, Kempt said. He didn’t lie and even admitted he fled Canada at one point to avoid new charges related to his time in Igloolik.
Dejaeger appeared unfazed throughout the proceeding, staring in the general direction of his lawyer, who raced through his submissions at such a pace Kilpatrick had to request he slow down for the court reporter.
Wearing blue sweatpants and a blue sweatshirt, Dejaeger’s appearance seemed unchanged since his last day in court, March 20 — thin with uncombed white hair poking out in messy strands from his beard and scalp.
Kempt went painstakingly through each witness testimony, pulling out inconsistencies from each story told under oath.
He argued that almost all of the complainants gave fuzzy, inconsistent childhood memories that could not be backed up by other witness testimonies.
Many of the complainants might well be victims, Kempt said — but not victims of Dejaeger.
Kempt said Igloolik’s a tough place to grow up, and there are consistent stories of sexual, physical and substance abuse amongst most of the witnesses. But they have nothing to do with Dejaeger.
He suggested the complainants were fragile, uneducated and vulnerable people simply looking for a payout.
Most of the witnesses falsely claimed to “remember” they were sexually abused by Dejaeger only when monetary compensation from the Catholic Church was offered to Dejaeger’s victims at some point, Kempt said.
That’s when collusion started, he suggested.
Witnesses admitted to “trying to help each other remember” and that many in the community are connected in some way — either through family, work, school or friendship. Others said they heard the news of Dejaeger’s impending trial through the media, Kempt pointed out.
All this led to a “contamination of information,” Kempt said.
Other evidence is simply absurd, he said.
Some witnesses blamed Dejaeger for turning one complainant into a homosexual. Another said Dejaeger’s sperm had permanently damaged her ear — both unbelievable, argued Kempt.
Others said Dejaeger spoke Inuktitut and heard confessions — both not true, Kempt said. And those who accused Dejaeger of having sex with a dog gave different descriptions of the breed, colour, name and sex of the dog.
One witness testified that after Dejaeger vaginally raped her, he put her on the toilet to let the blood seep out.
But church colleagues Nicole Tessier and Father Robert Lechat, as well as Dejaeger, all testified that the church didn’t have a toilet — they used a honey bucket.
On top of that, Kempt questioned the absence of health records to back up the many allegations of child rape.
Even testimony about how he looked were incorrect.
Many witnesses described Dejaeger wearing black robes and a clerical collar, “but that doesn’t exist outside of a Hollywood film,” Kempt said, adding that evidence from church workers confirmed this error.
Kempt wrapped up his submissions May 26. The trial continues with Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss delivering his final arguments May 27.