Hiding in plain sight


The curious tale of Father Eric Dejaeger raises many serious questions.

Based on the large amount of evidence that now lives in the public domain, it’s likely the answers to those questions — if they ever can be answered — would not be flattering to a variety of prominent institutions.

Those institutions include the governments of Canada and Belgium, the Canadian government’s public prosecution service in the northern territories, and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Dejaeger sits in Canadian custody, awaiting trial on a set of sex charges against children. Those charges were first laid in February 1995. They concern allegations that arise from the late 1970s, when Dejaeger lived in Igloolik, serving as a missionary for the Oblates.

This means at least four Igloolik complainants have waited at least 16 years for their allegations to be tested in court, more than 30 years after the incidents described in the charging documents are alleged to have occurred.

We now know there was never any justification, legal or otherwise, for this lengthy delay.

In June 1995, Dejaeger did not appear in court to face those charges. We now know that for most of the period following that date, Dejaeger lived illegally in Belgium.

This means the Belgian government could have expelled Dejaeger from their country whenever they liked, after his three-month visitor’s visa expired. Canada should not have had to start a complicated extradition process in the Belgian courts. In the end, Belgium simply moved an illegal migrant back to his own country.

But they didn’t do that until just last week. Until this past September, Belgium did not know, apparently, that Dejaeger was not a citizen of their country. The Oblate priest had renounced his Belgian citizenship many years ago, and became a Canadian citizen.

It’s difficult to understand how no one could have known this until last year. Like many Western European states, Belgium is obsessed with illegal immigration and the presence of undocumented migrants in their country. It’s a big political issue for them.

And yet, in 1995, Belgium allowed a convicted child molester, fresh from serving out a five-year prison sentence imposed for sex crimes against children in Baker Lake, to enter their country and live there freely for nearly 16 years. They let him move back and forth between Belgium and France, where Dejaeger worked for a while at Lourdes, assisting Dutch-language tour groups, including groups of Flemish school children.

Why did no one, including the public prosecution service in Canada, make a simple inquiry about the status of Dejaeger’s citizenship? And given Dejaeger’s Canadian criminal convictions in 1990 and 1991, why did Belgian authorities not do the same?

As for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Dejaeger’s employer and protector, they appear to have been rather less than vigorous in helping authorities.

On July 5, 1995, an Oblate official in Manitoba wrote a letter to Dejaeger, by then a fugitive in Belgium.

In the letter, the church official says this about a conversation he had with an RCMP member: “They asked where you were and I told them Belgium but I did not know where.” He also warns Dejaeger about the outstanding arrest warrant.

And, in the most damning admission of all, he says that as long as Dejaeger stays away from Canada “it would seem that there will be no more done about this…”

Why did he believe this? Perhaps it’s because Canadian Crown prosecutors were also less than vigorous in repatriating Dejaeger to the country of his citizenship.

On Oct. 20, 1993, John Scurfield, Dejaeger’s lawyer at the time, in a letter attached to a legal bill sent to the Oblate order in Manitoba, said “the Department of Justice has decided not to proceed with further charges against Father Dejaeger at this time.”

He also said: “We think it is now unlikely that they will proceed with any further charges at any time.” Why did Dejaeger’s lawyer believe this?

It’s not often that a wanted man gets to hide in plain sight, ignoring international arrest warrants with impunity for nearly 16 years. There’s a small group of sexual abuse complainants in Igloolik who deserve to know how and why this was allowed to happen. JB

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