Activists on two continents want priest extradited
Northern News Services Nunavut
01 November 2010
by Jeanne Gagnon
NUNAVUT NEWS/NORTH, Monday, November 1, 2010
Two people – one in Canada and the other in Belgium – say they are pressuring their respective governments to have a priest charged with sex crimes brought to justice Eric Dejaeger, a Catholic priest facing six 30-year-old sex charges stemming from his time in Iglulik in the late 70s and early 80s, turned himself in to Belgian police about a month ago before being released. The 63-year-old is facing three counts each of buggery and indecent assault for incidents alleged to have occurred between Sept. 26, 1978 and Aug. 9, 1982 at or near the hamlet of Iglulik, according to his arrest warrant issued April 22, 2002.
Dejaeger was convicted on eight counts of sexual assault and one count of indecent assault in Baker Lake on April 6, 1990 and was sentenced to five years in prison, according to information provided by the Northwest Territories Courts.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Michel Bertrand worked as a supervisor in the social services office for the Government of the Northwest Territories in Baker Lake. He said he interviewed some of the alleged victims of Dejaeger at the time. “I find the work I did in 1989 was for nothing because he got away and he ran away and nobody did anything. I know what happened in Baker Lake and I know the trouble that (he) caused in that community. What he did to those children threw that community into a real tailspin,” he said. “It really affected me personally as well. I don’t think it’s right just because he’s a priest he can get away with it.” He added he has not been contacted by people in Iglulik and Baker Lake since he left 20 years ago.
Speaking from Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Bertrand, who said he was “disgusted” by the whole situation, is now advocating to have Dejaeger brought back to justice. He said he has written letters to the editor in various newspapers and has sent messages to the federal health minister, foreign affairs department and the justice minister to speed up the extradition. “What I want is for him to be brought back. I think it’s unfair to Northern communities just because this is a member of clergy that they can jump on the plane and escape justice,” he said. “Bring him back and let him have his day in court. I don’t want to hurt him or anything like that. I just want him to have his day in court but I want those people in Iglulik to have their justice too.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, in Leuven, Belgium, Lieve Halsberghe is also working to have Dejaeger sent back to Canada to answer to the latest charges. She said she got involved because it’s time to stop being silent. “There is no excuse why the church should not send this man back to Canada, because he has made so many victims. He has destroyed so many lives,” she said. “If he really wanted to turn himself in, why (doesn’t) he buy a ticket and fly to Canada. That would be really turning yourself in.”
Halsberghe said Dejaeger probably won’t have a life in Belgium because children who used to live in his neighbourhood refused to play outside as they were afraid. “People did not know what he did before. They never realized (he) was a really really bad criminal. They found out and they do not want him to live there anymore,” she said.
Bertrand said Halsberghe has contacted him to get more information about a person who was allegedly abused by Dejaeger while in Europe. Halsberghe said she wants the victims to know they are not alone and people are trying to help them. “We believe the reason he is not being sent back is just because he is a priest. That shouldn’t be. He should be treated like every other criminal. We have nothing against the church. We are just fighting criminals,” she said. “We are trying to put the pressure on and inform the public. We will never keep this affair silent until justice has been achieved for all people concerned.”
Justice officials previously told News/North discussions were taking place with Belgian authorities about extraditing Dejaeger.