Oblate priest returns to Nunavut to face sex charges
Father Eric Dejaeger to arrive Iqaluit Jan. 20; court appearance pending
MONTREAL — A Roman Catholic priest who escaped prosecution for more than 15 years for alleged sex crimes against Inuit children was returned to Canada Wednesday because of an immigration violation in Belgium, where he was living.
Father Eric Dejaeger, 63, an Oblate priest, landed in Montreal Jan. 19 and was to board a commercial flight to Iqaluit, Nunavut Jan. 20 to face six sex abuse charges allegedly committed on boys at least 30 years ago.
The mayor of Igloolik, where the offences are alleged to have taken place, said people were relieved to hear the news of Dejaeger’s arrest.
“It’s a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone,” said Lucasi Ivvalu. “So everyone suffers.”
Dejaeger seems to have escaped justice all these years because Belgium wasn’t aware he’d become a Canadian citizen in 1977, even though it’s clearly stated in the RCMP file, said RCMP Supt. Howard Eaton in a phone call from Iqaluit.
After having lived in Canada’s Arctic since the 1970s, Dejaeger was sentenced in 1990 to five years for nine counts of sexually abusing children in Baker Lake.
In 1995, after Dejaeger served his term, more complainants came forward from Igloolik. Dejaeger fled Canada for Belgium and failed to show up for court appearance scheduled for June 1995.
Interpol placed Dejaeger on its wanted list on May 3, 2001.
But Belgium has a 10-year statute of limitations on child sex crimes that kicks in once the victim reaches 18, and therefore wouldn’t extradite Dejaeger — who they thought was still a Belgian citizen — to be tried in Canada, where there is no time limit for prosecution.
“The fact he was Canadian seems to have escaped a lot of people and I don’t know why it didn’t come out because we have photocopies of his Canadian papers in his file,” Eaton said. “There were attempts to get him out of [Belgium] but they outright refused.”
Dejaeger was living as a free man until last fall, when authorities in Belgium discovered that Dejaeger’s Belgian passport had expired in 1997, making him an illegal immigrant in his birth country.
Belgium’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement in September that Dejaeger didn’t inform Belgian authorities that he had become a Canadian citizen and he gave “false information about his nationality” to Belgian consular officials in Canada.
He was told this month to hand over his Belgian identity card, which he no longer had a right to carry, and was arrested and ordered deported.
“As soon as they had the ability to act, they acted,” Eaton said.
Dejaeger was held in a detention facility for illegal migrants in Bruges until his departure for Canada.
Ivvalu said Dejaeger’s four alleged victims, all of whom are now grown men with families, have suffered for years.
“It’s going to bring back sad memories, and hopefully there’ll be a healing process after that,” he said.