Father Jacques Faucher has a courtdate tomorrow morning:
1o December 2013: 10 am, courtroom #5, Ottawa Ontario courthouse, “to be spoken to”
I had hoped to go but just will not be able to make it. I encourage those who can do so to please attend to keep tabs on what is happening. It will probably be over in the twinkle of an eye, but sometimes there are surprises.
As always, please keep the complainants in your prayers. And please, if you do attend send along news of the outcome. If there is no news I will check on Wednesday for the next court date and will pass on the word and update the legal calendar accordingly.
Father Robert Lechat omi testimony
And now, the testimony of Oblate priest Father Robert Levchat at the sex abuse trial of Father Eric Dejaeger.
First, a little background on Father Lechat.
Father Lechat was born 17 January 1920 in Saint-Philibert du Peuple, France. He was ordained as an Oblate priest 11 July 1945 in Pontmain, France by Bishop Lamy. Shortly thereafter he was in Canada.
During his years in Canada Father Lechat served in Baie Rouge, Quebec, Koartak-Wakeham By, Quebec; Richmond Gulf, Quebec, Fort Chimo, North West Territories; Igloolik North West Territories; Hall Beach, North West Teritories (Nunavut). He also held administrative positions within the Diocese of Church-Hudson Bay and researcher for the diocese.
Of note too is the fact that Father Lechat mentored Father Tony Krotki omi for two-and-a-half years in the North . That was back in the early 90′s, just after Father Krotki arrived in Canada from Poland as a newly ordained priest. Tony Krotki is now Bishop Tony Krotki. He replaced Bishop Reynald Roleau omi as Bishop of Churchill-Hudson Bay. That is the diocese which encompasses Igloolik and Baker Lake.
Now 93-years-of-age Father Lechat walks slowly with a cane, and required assistance entering and exiting the witness stand in the courtroom, but, his mind seems to be clear and he presented in the courtroom as affable and jovial.
Father Lechat testified in English, but he speaks with a heavy French accent and, at least from my spot in the courtroom, was often extremely difficult to understand. My notes are sparse. As he testified Lechat would on occasion turn to his right to speak face to face to Dejager, The pair exchanged smiles and shared a few laughs throughout his testimony,
The layout of the church in Igloolik
Much of Father Lechat’s testimony centered on the layout of “the mission” in Igloolik during his years in that community. This without doubt will bring clarity to the testimony of various victims who testified that were abused in various locations throughout the two-story-building. At times during victim testimony, for example, there was reference to the kitchen on the second floor, and at times it was said the kitchen was on the second floor. According to Father Lechat the kitchen was originally on the first floor and during renovations in 1984 was relocated to the second floor.
There were details which Father Lechat has forgotten; for example, he did not remember if there was a second small room under the stairway beside the CB room, and asked if there was a piano in the church he replied there was “probably” a small organ, and he didn’t “think” the church was ever locked , and didn’t “think” there was a door at the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor, and didn’t think the children played in the area of the church where the curtains were pulled across “but it could have happened.”.
There was talk about the attic space upstairs where two large deep freezes were kept along with such things as winter clothes, seasonal decorations and sleeping bags.
Testimony was evoked regarding a large bedroom on the second floor which was divided into two. Asked which of the bedrooms was his, Lechat replied that he wasn’t sure, and said that he thought perhaps he and Dejager had maybe changed bedrooms. At this he looked at Dejeager, they made eye contact. Lechat smiled and shrugged.
There was testimony regarding where Father Dejager was and when, and also regarding Father Lechat’s lengthy absences from Igloolik while Dejaeger was there. This was enabled by references to Father Lechat’s journal.
Father Lechat kept a journal throughout his years in the North. Lechat told the court that the Oblate priests were instructed by the bishop that there are two laws for priests serving in the North (1) Keep a journal, and (2) Go out in the cold.
Father Lechat’s journal entries are in French.
We heard that Father Lechat was visited by an RCMP officer at some point before the trial and was asked to translate those sections of his journal which referenced Father Dejaeger and, I believe, which he deemed relevant. The priest explained to the court that in some cases he translated only portions of an entry because he did not consider the other portion relevant.
There was an attempt to have these excerpts with Father Lechat’s accompanying translations entered into evidence, but that was thwarted when Mr. Kempt objected. Kempt had trouble with a sentence which Father Lechat had written at the bottom of a page. The judge suggested a redacted copy could be entered into evidence. The Crown noted that it was not a jury trial. In the end my understanding is that the document was not entered into evidence – the judge suggested there was no need to do so and that it might give grounds for an appeal.
According to the journal entries, Father Dejaeger and Father Lecaht first met in 1974 when Dejager, a seminarian in Edmonton at the time, spent ten days with the senior priest, both in Igloolik where Lechat was serving, and travelling to areas such as Ivujivik, Igloolik, Hall Beach and Pelly Bay.
The pair met again in Edmonton in 1976, and yet again in 1977 in Repulse Bay where Eric Dejaeger was serving his diaconate year.
When Dejaeger was ordained in 1978 he was assigned to serve in Igloolik. Father Lechat was the pastor in Igloolik from 1972-1986 (he returned for one year in 1988) Dejaeger served in Igloolik from 1978 to 1981 (he was assigned to serve in Baker Lake in 1982)
According to Father Lechat, he, Lechat, was gone frequently during Dejaeger’s three year stay in Igloolik. At one point Lechat was gone for an eight month stretch.
I am uncertain when all of these trips transpired, particularly the eight month stretch, but was rather surprised that Father Lechat would leave a newly ordained priest in charge of a parish like that, all the more so knowing that Father Dejaeger was unable to speak Inuktitut, the language of the people, and therefore would have been unable to communicate with them or, from a purely spiritual and Roman Catholic perspective hear their confessions or provide spiritual direction.
However, according to Father Lechat, he deliberately left Dejaeger alone and in charge of the mission to try to force Dejaeger to learn to speak Inuktitut –Dejager was not, according to Lechat, learning to speak Inuktitut very well.
It was perhaps during his eight month stint away that parishioners wrote letters to the bishop saying they wanted a priest who could speak Inuktitut? I know that he testified that there were letters to the bishop about Dejaeger and language.
Father Lechat testified that he had been away from Igloolik a lot, and that “if something happened” perhaps he was away.
There was mention of Dejaeger travelling to visit to another Flemish-speaking Belgian Oblate priest serving in the North. (I believe that would have to have been Father Franz Vandevelde omi, ordained in Belgium in 1935 and serving in the North [Pelley Bay, Igloolik and Hall Beach] from 1937 until his retirement and return to Belgium in 1986.)
According to Father Lechat, before Vatican II priests did everything. After Vatican II, “couples” became very important. Since women couldn’t be ordained, the bishop wanted women as deaconesses. The women would be doing the work of deacons without being deacons.
In the mission in Igloolik there were “couples” who were leaders in the Church. I believe this would be like some other Canadian dioceses where married couples became actively involved in Church.
Members of these couples, not the priests, would, amongst other things, teach the children catechism. Father Lechat said he would meet with these people from time to time to hear what they were teaching or preaching.
According to Father Lechat there were no paid employees at the mission, but he thought perhaps the bishop gave something to the catechists (the lay people who taught the children catechism after school)
There was a Nicole Tessier who lived at the mission and taught religion classes. Dejaeger refused to speak French to her. Nicole Tessier is now married and known as Nicole Arnatsiaq. (Dejaeger was extremely adverse to speaking French and insisted that his ordination be conducted in English).
We heard that Father Dejaeger went out to camp with Inuit families several times. Going camping out on the land with the family like that meant accompanying them when the family went hunting or fishing for several days. (There was testimony last week of Dejaeger molesting children when he accompanied a family ‘on the land.” The family had a number of white tents set up– “Eric” has his colourful tent set up quite apart from the rest. I will be blogging on that tomorrow)
According to Lechat, camping with a family was the best way to learn Inuktitut. Lechat was happy that Dejaeger was out on the land with these families. According to him it was a good way for Dejaeger to see their way of living. He also believed that the best way to learn the language was from the children.
It seems there was an error in Father Lechat’s dates. I got the impression that this was in relation to the camping trips. When asked about it he replied with a laugh “I make mistakes too.”
According to Father Lechat, the Inuit children could speak English by the time they were in Grade 8 or Grade 9.
The children were at the church after school for catechism (given by laymen or lay women). The classes lasted about 30 minutes. They would, according to Lechat, be home in winter before dark. (It was getting dark in Iqaluit at 3 pm when I was there. When does it get dark in the winter in Igloolik?)
Asked the ages of the children taking catechism classes after school, he said were ‘the first ones going to school.’ And, when asked, he testified that he taught too, but that he taught at the school. I’m not sure what grades he taught and therefore what ages those children would have been. Nor am I sure why some school children went to the church after school for catechism classes while others received instruction in school and from the him. If there was any explanation on this I missed it.
Father Lechat said that “as far as I can remember” there were no games at the church. He testified that there was Mass at 7 pm in the evening. Asked if the children would stay after Mass he replied “Oh no no”
Asked if children playing at the church were given snacks and candies, Lechat initially replied that it was “possible” and it “could happen.” When asked if that was done when he was there the priest initially replied that he didn’t remember, then said there were candies for the children “for sure.”
We heard that., according to Father Lechat, Father Dejager was “very fond of dogs” and arrived in Igloolik with a dog. The dog was a large grey Irish hound. He testified that he told Eric that that was not a dog for the north.
Initially the dog was kept outside. It allegedly scared people. Because of the cold the dog was brought in to sleep in a second porch. He is uncertain how long the dog was around. He was unsure if the dog was male or female. [For various reasons I think that Dejaeger owned more than one dog in Igloolik. There has been testimony that Dejeagers’ dog was shot after he left the community and the dog had been abandoned. Last week there was testimony that a message came through on the CB radio that ‘the priest’s dog has been shot’ whereupon “Eric” broke down in tears at the news. The shooting was accidental. I will cover that when I blog the testimony of Wednesday last week)
I didn’t hear it said, but according to Nunatsiaq News Online Father Lechat said he didn’t like Dejaeger’s dog. I did hear him joke that he is more of a cat person (Lechat means “the cat”)
When asked under cross examination by Mr. Kempt if he had ever had complaints about Dejager the answer from Father Lechat was never (I think that was in the context of allegations of sex abuse) . Lechat said he was surprised when he received the news that Dejager had been arrested in Baker Lake.
It was at this point that Lechat made the first of two comments which perked my ears. I don’t have it in my notes, but he said something to the effect that everyone makes mistakes. That took me back to Michel’s comment in October 2010 re the trial in Baker Lake:
The court was held in the local hotel lounge as this was the largest room available in Baker Lake. I was sitting to the side of the crown directly off from him in the next row. He had a 3-4 inch pin button on the point of his parka’s hood that read “everybody makes mistakes”
And then, then Lechat added that “even” the Inuit people said that “Well, he is only human…” - and then something akin to that business of making mistakes again, and then something about the Inuit people saying that they would take Dejaeger back if he could speak Iniktitut!.
I decided then and there that I was going to try to get clarification as soon as Father Lechat was finished testifying, off the stand and out of the courtroom.
Did he really and truly believe that “Eric” had just made a “mistake” in Baker Lake? And, if “Eric” learned to speak Inuktitut, did Father Lechat really think it would be alright to subject the people of Igloolik to a convicted child molester? even if some naively thought it was alright because “he is only human”
I was floored.
There were more questions.
Then it was finished.
Father Lechat was assisted out of the witness box and exited the courtroom. I followed. In the hallway Father was seated discussing his departure and intent to fly out the following day (Saturday).
I approached Father Lechat. I said I would like to ask him…
I got not further. Father Lechat glared at me. He informed me very curtly that the case was still before the courts and he had nothing to say. The RCMP officer accompanying essentially did likewise.
Does Father Lechat think that every time Dejaeger molested it was just a mistake? Really?!
Did the people of Igloolik really say that Dejaeger is only human and that they would take him, Dejaeger, back if he learned their language? If yes, how many said that?
Sorry. No answers.
As I blogged earlier, there were a few laughs and lots of smiles shared between the two Oblates, one the witness, and the other a twice convicted child molester and former fugitive from justice now standing trial for the sex abuse of numerous children.
Father Lechat would turn to face Dejager and sometimes talk directly to him, or, as I mentioned above, look at him with a shrug or smile. The pair exchanged smiles a number of times, and had a couple of darn good laughs. (When Dejaeger laughs he turns crimson.)
It was the most peculiar thing I have ever seen in court. Happy times. In the court room. The witness and the defendant. Bonded.
Happy times indeed!
Never once did I hear a breath of anything spiritual coming from Father Lechat’s mouth, neither in general testimony, nor directed at Dejaeger. Nor was there any expression of concern for the victims. None. Just, well, talk of mistakes, and….
How many times can I say it?
One more time…
It was a good day for “Eric.” Happy times
Another charge was added to the roster last week. That complainant was to take the stand and testify today (Monday, 09 December 2013)
I have been asking about the failure to appear charge since the trial started. I asked again while in Iqaluit. It’s gone missing. It is not listed with the sex-related charges on the indictment sheet. My understanding is that there is a search being conducted for the charge. Let’s hope and pray Dejaeger doesn’t manage to elude that charge because the paperwork somehow went awry! (That is the charge which was laid when he failed to appear in a Winnipeg Manitoba courtroom in 1995. I am most anxious to hear testimony relating to that. There has been no “guilty” plea to that charge so Dejaeger is obviously planning to fight it. If it can be found!
How does a charge go missing? I haven’t the foggiest. I will say no more until things are sorted out and hopefully the charge is found and evidence is called to convict.
The testimony of complainants/victims is expected to wrap up this week. Whether or not Dejaeger will take the stand in his own defence is still an unknown. That is a decision which will be made by Dejaeger and his lawyer.
The case will probably not conclude with sentencing before February or March 2014 but should recess before Christmas around 20 December 2013
There is as yet no agreed upon statement of facts for the charges to which Dejaeger entered guilty pleas.
Enough for now,