Convictions upheld; appeal court to rule later on sentence
NEWS: Nunavut September 26, 2018 – 10:30 am
WARNING: This article presents information that may be disturbing for some readers.
The pedophile ex-priest Eric Dejaeger remains guilty on 32 sex crimes committed mostly against Inuit children between 1976 and 1982, after the Court of Appeal of Nunavut, on Sept. 25, rejected his bid to have those convictions overturned.
“The conviction appeal will be dismissed with reasons to follow,” Judge Jo’Anne Strekaf said, after hearing lawyer submissions for about an hour and a half.
Justice Robert Kilpatrick sentenced Dejaeger in 2015 to 19 years in prison for crimes he committed mostly in Igloolik, where he worked as an Oblate missionary.
Defence lawyer Scott Cowan argued that Kilpatrick’s ruling “falls into legal error,” because Dejaeger ignored appellant evidence and treating witness accounts unequally.
The ruling relies on “banal” details, fading childhood memories, and lacks “confirmatory evidence,” Cowan said.
But Crown counsel Nick Devlin said Kilpatrick’s acquittal on 40 other counts shows that only credible evidence was considered in Dejaeger’s conviction.
“Counts on which he was acquitted span from full rapes to fondling,” Devlin said.
To be upheld in court, victim accounts needed to be clear, childlike, embellishment free, and follow a believable order, Devlin said.
One such account from among Dejaeger’s convictions came from a girl who remembered the man placing a plastic bag to catch her blood before she was raped. She was less than 10 at the time and said she blacked out from the pain.
While victim accounts did vary greatly, Devlin said they all carried one clear message. That is, “Eric Dejaeger’s lap is not a place you want to end up.”
The three court of appeal judges decided to dismiss the appeal of Kilpatrick’s convictions over a 15-minute break.
The two-part appeal also sought to have Dejaeger’s sentence reduced.
Defence counsel Yoni Rahamim argued that Kilpatrick’s sentence should have considered a five-year sentence that Dejaeger served for abusing children in Baker Lake in the years following the Igloolik offences.
He called the abuse “a continuous time period where the assaults did not stop,” and said the court is at risk of excess sentencing when crime disclosures are “staggered” and sentenced in a “piecemeal” way.
While Dejaeger received a sentence of 19 years, after time served he is required to serve 11 years. Dejaeger was not in court and is currently detained at Warkworth Institution in Ontario. According to Crown counsel, Dejaeger can legally apply for parole this coming Sunday.
In 2015, Dejaeger received an additional five-year concurrent sentence when he pleaded guilty to four 1970s sex crimes against three children in Edmonton.
The Crown called the Kilpatrick sentence “in line” with both the severity of child sex-abuse crimes and with sentencing for “mass victimizers.”
“We’re slowly coming to terms with the severity of child sex abuse,” and the lasting impacts of sexual trauma, Devlin said, calling Dejaeger’s acts “chosen,” “deliberate” and in “breach of trust” with his place of power as a priest in the community.
The appeals court will rule at a later date on the sentencing appeal.
Ex-priest Eric Dejaeger loses conviction appeal in Igloolik sex offences case
Dejaeger’s appeal related to the amount of jail time awaits written decision
The Nunavut Court of Appeal will not grant ex-priest Eric Dejaeger a new trial for a 2014 conviction for sex offences in Igloolik.
Yesterday, Dejaeger’s lawyers argued in front of a panel of three judges that Justice Robert Kilpatrick made errors in his 2014 decision. The lawyers were seeking a new trial to review the evidence.
Dejaeger’s lawyer Scott Cowan had three reasons for challenging the conviction. To begin, he argued the judge did not adequately explain why he accepted some complainants’ testimonies and not others.
Dejaeger was convicted on 32 counts of various sexual offences for abusing 23 people in Igloolik. The offences ranged from anal and vaginal rape to fondling, and they took place over a four-year period in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Kilpatrick found Dejaeger not guilty on 40 counts.
Crown lawyer Nick Devlin responded to Cowan’s argument by pointing out Kilpatrick’s careful assessment of each complainant’s testimony. The judge reviewed each story based on its logical flow, level of detail and if the memory seemed appropriate for the age of the complainant at the time.
Cowan’s second ground for appeal was the fact that Kilpatrick said he did not believe Dejaeger, but that alone is not enough to convict him.
Dejaeger testified during the trial he “shooed annoying children out of his living quarters by groping their crotches and buttocks, for no other reason than to make them leave,” according to the crown’s factum.
Cowan said he must find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in the complainants’ testimonies. He argued there were times when Kilpatrick did not.
The final challenge was that because there was a pattern of behaviour, Kilpatrick filled in the gaps using similar facts from other complainants in less convincing testimony.
The appeal court did not find the arguments compelling. It sided with the original judge and dismissed the appeal. The reasons will be released at a later date.
Decision in sentencing appeal to come
Dejaeger was also appealing the length of the sentence for these offences, but the appeal court decided to wait to announce its decision on this issue.
Its written decision will be released in the coming months.
Dejaeger’s other lawyer, Yoni Rahamim, argued that when considering the time Dejaeger has already spent in prison on related offences — he was sentenced to five years for sexual offences in Baker Lake in the 1980s — his sentence was too long.
Dejaeger is currently incarcerated in Warkworth Institution, a medium-security federal prison near Campbellford, Ont. for crimes committed in Igloolik and Alberta.
The sentence for all 32 counts related to incidents in Igloolik was just shy of 80 years, but when Kilpatrick adjusted the time using the sentencing principle of totality — a principle which tries to avoid crushing a defendant with a lengthy prison sentence — he decided Dejaeger would serve 19 years.
Rahamim said 19 years was “excessive,” but Devlin argued that with changes in society’s collective understanding about the “lifelong damage” caused by sexual abuse, it could be considered lenient.
“We think of the things we sentence people to life [25 years] for,” said Devlin. “Murders committed in passion and anger have vastly less moral culpability than choosing to use the children over whom you have trust for sexual gratification.
“Every single act that Mr. Dejaeger committed was a calculated, chosen act, every time he touched a child.”
After credit for time served before the sentencing, 71-year-old Dejaeger is eligible to apply for parole as early as this Sunday. If he applies, he may or may not be granted some form of parole.