Former Nunavut priest denies he sexually abused dozens of complainants
Eric Dejaeger said he handled situations “the way Jesus would do it”
Updated 4:23 p.m., Jan. 21
No. Never. Not true. It didn’t happen.
Eric Dejaeger stuck to his guns while on the witness stand Jan. 21, saying over and over, for the benefit of his lawyer, that he did not commit repeated sexual offences against dozens of complainants who have testified against him.
Dejaeger, a former Oblate priest who faced 80 charges during a trial that began in November 2013 — most of them sexual offences against children in Igloolik — has pleaded guilty to eight.
After a five-week break, the judge-only trial before Justice Robert Kilpatrick resumed this week at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit with defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt presenting his case.
Kempt began Jan. 21 by taking evidence from the man at the centre of this emotional trial: Dejaeger.
Wearing a prison-issued blue sweat suit, his large grey beard stretching to his chest, the 66-year-old walked to the stand with ease, put his hand on the Bible, stood upright, stated his name, and when asked to swear to tell the truth, promptly said “I do.”
Half an hour into the examination, Kempt asked about the eight charges Dejaeger pleaded guilty to at the beginning of the trial.
“I want to take my responsibility for them,” Dejaeger said.
Dejaeger described how each one of those eight incidents unfolded.
In each incident, the complainants, all boys, wandered individually up to his room, alone, at St. Stephen’s Church in Igloolik, he said.
He said that’s when he touched each boy in the crotch area, over their pants. He added that he touched one of the boys in a sexual way on his buttocks — but again, over the pants.
The eight complainants claimed more than just inappropriate touching, however.
Defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt repeated witness testimony about how some of them said he penetrated their buttocks and touched their penises under their pants.
Kempt described how one witness alleged he had been sexually touched 10 times or more during “sleepovers.”
“Not true,” replied Dejaeger.
Most of his answers were similarly brief, consisting of only two or three words. He spoke English with a Flemish accent and barely moved during three hours of questioning.
Dejaeger spoke softly and clearly into the microphone, although at one point, Kempt had to tell Dejaeger to slow down for the court reporter.
Addressing allegations made against Dejaeger in court before Christmas, Kempt said some complainants had testified that Dejaeger, making threats, warned them not to tell others about the touching, and that they had been assaulted as well.
“No,” Dejaeger said. “Oh, no, no.”
“I’ve never threatened anybody, but for sure not those boys,” Dejaeger said.
While his memory seemed clear on that point, he could not recall the order by which he sexually assaulted the eight witnesses, or in what time of year.
Dejaeger said he “never do anything to those people,” when asked about charges alleged by other complainants.
Kempt said many of the complainants were female — noting that eight of the charges he pleaded guilty to involved males — and asked Dejaeger to respond to that.
“Except that it didn’t happen, I don’t know,” Dejaeger said.
Dejaeger said he did pick up children and put them in his lap, but never in an inappropriate, sexual manner.
He also denied charges of bestiality.
“No. I like my dogs, but not in that way. I never had anything sexual to do with dogs,” Dejaeger said.
While giving evidence, he denied allegations that he fed children pills or hypnotized them.
He also denied that he told children they would go to hell and added that the Catholic mission was a positive place. He said he handled situations “the way Jesus would do it.”
Also, in response to an allegation that he put kids in a dark room and locked them inside, he said, “No, I never did that.”
Malcolm Kempt spoke briefly about Dejaeger’s criminal record.
Dejaeger was found guilty of sexual assaults stemming from the 1980s, when he worked as a priest in Baker Lake.
He said he feels “very bad” about those incidents, but since then he said he has taken counselling sessions and had phallometric testing completed while in prison.
(Phallometric testing measures the changes in penile circumference in response to sexual and nonsexual stimuli and helps doctors identify deviant sexual interests.)
“I can say, honestly, nothing has happened since,” Dejaeger said.
After a lunch adjournment, Dejaeger’s defence lawyer went through each witness allegation, to give his client an opportunity to speak to each one.
Dejaeger remained defiant and said little more than “no,” “not true,” “no, didn’t do that,” and the occasional “no, I didn’t do anything like this.”
In one of the allegations, Kempt said the witness alleged that Dejaeger wanted to get a gun and kill people.
“Not true, that’s ridiculous,” Dejaeger said, shaking his head.
He also said he “never, ever” invited people to the church for food other than for special occasions like Easter or Christmas.
Kempt also brought up a witness who said Dejaeger had drugged and raped her, then put her on a toilet when her vagina started bleeding.
To the allegation of intercourse, either vaginally or anally, Dejaeger said: “Oh, no, no.”
When asked if Dejaeger did, in fact, put her on the toilet to control the bleeding from her vagina: “No, I didn’t.”
As to drugging the girl with pills: “I don’t think there were pills in the mission.”
Dejaeger had said earlier he didn’t “even think there were aspirins in the mission.”
When Kempt questioned Dejaeger about a woman who said she had to defecate on him to escape being abused, Dejaeger denied that happened, saying, “No, no.”
Dejaeger also denied throwing her into a slushy river, threatening her with violence, or telling her never to tell anyone about the incident.
“No, I didn’t,” Dejaeger said.
The resumption of the trial this week began with Kempt filing “non-suit applications” to seek dismissal of 10 charges.
Justice Kilpatrick threw out three charges on Jan. 30 related to a witness who did not testify and then dismissed a fourth charge on Jan. 21.
That charge alleged Dejaeger used threats of violence.
Kilpatrick also amended one of the charges from sexual intercourse to buggery.
Kempt will likely finish his questioning of Dejaeger on Jan. 22, when Crown prosecutors will begin their cross-examination.