Nunavut court: Child-molesting ex-priest deserves 25 years jail time, Crown says

Defence lawyer pitches 12-year sentence, saying Crown submission is “crushing” and “heavy-handed”


Wearing pink handcuffs, Eric Dejaeger steps out of an RCMP vehicle at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, prior to a court appearance he attended about a year ago, on Jan. 20, 2014. (FILE PHOTO)

Wearing pink handcuffs, Eric Dejaeger steps out of an RCMP vehicle at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, prior to a court appearance he attended about a year ago, on Jan. 20, 2014. (FILE PHOTO)

(Updated Jan. 21, 4:35 p.m.)

To honour the principles of retribution, denunciation and general deterrence, child-molester ex-priest Eric Dejaeger, 67, should get a 25-year jail sentence, Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss said Jan. 21 in a sentencing submission held at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

“In virtually every community he was in, he sexually assaulted somebody,” Curliss told Justice Robert Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick found Dejaeger guilty this past September on 24 counts, mostly sex crimes against Inuit children committed in Igloolik between 1976 and 1982.

He also heard guilty pleas from Dejaeger on eight other charges, some of which involved police complaint first made in the early 1990s.

After two days of harrowing victim impact statements from Inuit adults who Dejaeger sexually abused and assaulted as children, Kilpatrick began hearing sentencing submissions from lawyers.

Curliss said Dejaeger’s case presents numerous aggravating factors and few mitigating factors.

And that means that — within the constraints posed by case law and sentencing principles set out in the Criminal Code — the court should impose the highest possible sentence, Curliss said.

“Abuse by a priest can be one of the most damaging forms of abuse,” Curliss said.

Other aggravating factors include Dejaeger’s flight from justice in 1995, when he fled to Belgium to escape charges laid in relation to abuses he inflicted on Igloolik children, and his apparent lack of remorse or insight into his criminal behaviour, Curliss said.

“He appears to have no insight,” Curliss said.

Dejaeger has already served jail time for sex crimes he committed in Baker Lake in the late 1980s, and he also committed a sexual assault in Kugaaruk, for which he is still to be sentenced.

In his submission, the Crown lawyer summarized each of the 32 counts that Dejaeger is guilty of, suggesting an appropriate sentence for each.

He also added up the amount of consecutive time that he attached to each sentence — and came up with a total of 79.75 years.

But the legal principle of “totality” — set out in Canadian case law — means that figure of nearly 80 years must be reduced to a lower number.

For that reason, he suggested a total sentence of 25 years, minus the four years during which Dejaeger has been detained in remand waiting for the completion of his trial.

And he said he does not oppose the defence position that Dejaeger get two-for-one credit for his remand time.

Defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt disagreed with the Crown submission, saying a 25-year sentence is higher than numerous sentences that other courts in Canada have handed out to offenders who committed more violent and depraved sex crimes.

“It’s our position that the Crown submission is heavy-handed, Kempt said.

For example, Curliss, in support of his pitch for a sentence that expresses retribution, cited a case called R. v. M. (C.A.), in which a British Columbia man raped, tortured and had incestuous sex with his children for many years.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1996 that a 25-year sentence imposed against the man in B.C court should stand.

“Retribution is an accepted, and indeed important, principle of sentencing in our criminal law,” the Supreme Court said in that judgment.

And the court said there is no fixed upper limit to sentences that can be imposed in such cases.

“There is no pre-fixed boundary to the sentencing discretion of a trial judge, whether at 20 or 25 years’ imprisonment,” the Supreme Court said.

But Kempt said that case involved a man who inflicted far more suffering on his victims than Dejaeger inflicted on his.

And the two cases “are not the same at all,” Kempt said.

He also pointed to other cases where convicted serial sexual abusers, including Roman Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, have received sentences as low as three or four years.

“We have all these cases where people are abusing children where they are getting lesser sentences than what the Crown proposes for Dejaeger,” Kempt said.

“Similar sentences for similar offenders for similar crimes. I can’t say that often enough.”

Kempt did not complete his sentencing submission by the end of the court sitting on Jan. 21.

That’s because Kilpatrick wants the defence lawyer to present a count-by-count list of all the offences that Dejaeger has been convicted of, with his own sentence recommendations and list of mitigating factors.

Kempt said he needs more time to create a chart containing that list, so that Kilpatrick can compare it with a similar list that the Crown provided.

Dejaeger’s sentencing hearing will resume at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 22.

At that sitting, the court will hear three things: the rest of the defence submission, the Crown’s rebuttal of the defence position, and a statement from Dejaeger.

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