Witness testifies but can’t face accused in Nunavut sex assault trial
“I knew that it wasn’t normal for an adult to touch a little kid that way”
Sometimes it’s hard just to walk through the courtroom door, let alone describe in detail the traumas of childhood.
Muttering profanities outside the door and then hiding her face inside a hoodie as she passed Eric Dejaeger — the man accused by dozen of witnesses of child sexual assault in Igloolik from 1978 to 1982 — the next in a long line of witnesses for the prosecution took the stand at the Nunavut Court of Justice Nov. 20.
Avoiding all eye contact, the woman, 36, sat down and looked left, away from Dejaeger and his lawyer, Malcolm Kempt.
“I don’t want to say his name,” she said when Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss asked who worked at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Igloolik.
Dejaeger, a Belgian-born Oblate missionary who became a Canadian citizen in the 1970s, has already served a five-year prison sentence imposed in 1990 after he was found guilty of sex crimes which occurred in Baker Lake between 1982 and 1989.
He now faces 77 new charges stemming from his time in Igloolik, where he was stationed before Baker Lake. Of those, he has pleaded guilty to eight charges of indecent assault.
The witness, who gave evidence on the afternoon of Nov. 20, described how she would accompany her parents when they attended meetings at the church every other day for up to two hours at a time.
While her parents met with another priest — Father Robert Lechat — Dejaeger would take her to another room and sexually abuse her, she said.
She said Dejaeger took her to the church’s downstairs kitchen, opened up the cabinets, and allowed her to take food.
Then, she said Dejaeger picked her up and sat her down on his lap as she ate.
That’s when Dejaeger started to rub her vagina through her clothes while her parents sat a few rooms away.
This happened up to six times she said, adding that Dejaeger touched her vagina under her clothes twice.
“I was just a little kid, I didn’t know anything about sexual touch or anything,” she told the court.
It was only when she started to date boys later in life that she discovered Dejaeger had done something wrong.
“I knew that it wasn’t normal for an adult to touch a little kid that way,” she told the court.
Dejaeger, motionless, stared at her in court, dressed in his usual prison-issue blue sweat pants and sweatshirt. He was in his early 30s when he worked in Igloolik. He is now 66.
The woman said she received a $16,000 compensation cheque from a lawyer about seven or eight years ago.
After the Crown prosecutor stopped cross-examining her, it was defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt’s turn.
But Kempt had to move away from Dejaeger and closer to the witness box to see the witness’s face — something he’s had to do for several of the witnesses so far.
“I don’t want to face him,” she said before Kempt began his questioning.
She told the defense lawyer that she probably had it easy when her experience with Dejeager is compared with others.
She said she heard stories of sexual assault from “quite a few” people, including one person who doesn’t want to come forward and speak about her experience.
The court heard that the woman has struggled with drug abuse since an early age, and that she just recently came out of drug rehabilitation.
After Kempt’s questioning, she put her hoodie back up and walked out of the court linked arm-to-arm with a supporter who was sitting in the gallery.
Loud wails could be heard outside the courtroom, even after the door shut behind her.
The trial continues Nov. 21. The court has heard from six witnesses so far and the trial is expected to last six weeks.