IQALUIT—A Nunavut court says public money should pay for a lawyer to argue the appeal of a former priest serving a 19-year sentence for sexually abusing dozens of Inuit children.
Eric Dejaeger was convicted on 32 counts of sexually abuse 22 Inuit children stemming from his time in Igloolik, Nunavut, as an Oblate priest and missionary more than 35 years ago.
“I am of the view that Mr. Dejaeger could not effectively present his appeal in an organized and coherent fashion without the assistance of counsel,” wrote Justice Neil Sharkey of the Nunavut Court of Appeal.
Dejaeger has said he’s too broke to pay for a lawyer and legal aid in Nunavut has turned him down.
Sharkey’s written ruling said Dejaeger has not entered specific grounds for his appeal or referred to any errors of law he feels were made during his trial.
The trial went ahead in early 2015 after he was returned from Belgium. The defrocked priest was initially slated to face his accusers from Igloolik in 1995, but instead left Canada for his Belgian homeland.
Oblate officials have said that Canadian justice officials turned a blind eye to his leaving the country. He was eventually returned to Canada when Belgian officials realized he was living in that country illegally.
Testimony was often disturbing and marked by tears and outcries from the witnesses and observers. It stirred old ghosts in Igloolik and territorial officials sent extra mental-health workers to the community to help people deal with the memories.Before he was sentenced, Dejaeger addressed the court and apologized to his victims for his actions.
Within weeks of the verdict, he filed a so-called “prisoner’s appeal” of his conviction and his sentence.
Later that fall, Dejaeger pleaded guilty to four additional counts of indecent assault and gross indecency related to his time living in Edmonton.
Ex-priest Eric Dejaeger granted court-appointed lawyer for sex abuse appeal
Dejaeger was sentenced to 19 years in prison for sex crimes against children in Igloolik, Nunavut
CBC News North
16 March 2017 Last Updated: Mar 16, 2017 12:05 PM CT
Former Roman Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger has been granted a court-appointed lawyer in his appeal of 24 convictions for sex crimes against children in Igloolik, Nunavut.
Justice Neil Sharkey handed down his decision granting Dejaeger court-appointed counsel Thursday morning in Iqaluit’s Nunavut Court of Appeal. The Crown argued against the decision, saying that Dejaeger did not convincingly establish that he was unable to pay a lawyer through other means.
Dejaeger, who is currently serving 19 years in prison for the crimes committed in Igloolik between 1978 and 1982, was denied funding for his appeal by the Nunavut Legal Services Board in July 2016.
Sharkey’s decision means Dejaeger’s lawyer will be paid for by the Attorney General of Canada.
It’s not yet clear on what grounds Dejaeger is appealing his convictions, something that Sharkey referenced in his decision to grant court-appointed aid.
“Indeed,” he wrote, “it has been said that an appellant who only has an arguable case is presumably more in need of counsel than an appellant who has a strong grounds of appeal.”
Sharkey also accepted that Dejaeger was unable to pay a lawyer through other means.
“Mr. Dejaeger was an Oblate missionary and a Roman Catholic priest and is now serving a lengthy sentence,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, I have no doubt Mr. Dejaeger is impecunious [has no money].”
Dejaegar is currently being held at Warkworth Institution, a medium-security federal prison near Campbellford, Ont. At the same time as he serves the sentence for his Igloolik convictions, he is serving a five-year sentence for charges relating to the sexual abuse of three children in Edmonton between 1975 and 1978.
Dejaeger previously served a five-year sentence for sexually abusing children in Baker Lake, Nunavut, where he was posted between 1982 and 1989. After serving that sentence, in 1995 he was charged for the offences in Igloolik. He fled to Belgium, where he lived for 16 years despite an international warrant for his arrest.
He was returned to Canada in 2011 to face the Igloolik charges.
No date has yet been set for Dejaeger — and his new counsel’s — next court appearance.