R. v. Dejaeger – Reasons for Sentence

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R. v. Dejaeger 


Her Majesty the Queen, and

Eric Dejaeger


 Northwest Territories Judgments:  [1990] N.W.T.J. No. 44

 Action No. CR 01045 

 Northwest Territories Supreme Court

Baker Lake, Northwest Territories

 Richard J.

 Heard:  April 5, 1990

 Judgment:  April 20, 1990

  Charged under Section 271 of the Criminal Code. 

  D. McWhinney, for the Crown. 

  J. Scurfield, Q.C., for the Defence.


   RICHARD J. (orally):‑‑ This afternoon it is my unpleasant duty to impose a sentence of imprisonment upon a Roman Catholic priest who has committed criminal offences against children of this community, and in doing so has breached the trust placed in him by those children, by the parents, and by the community of Baker Lake.

  Father Eric Dejaeger is an Oblate priest of 42 years of age  who was born and raised in Belgium. After receiving his religious training there, he was immediately sent to the  Canadian Arctic as a missionary. He served in a number of communities in the north, and was transferred to Baker Lake in  1982. He served in Baker Lake until 1989 when the present offences came to light. 

  During his priesthood in the North, like other Northern missionaries who had the same calling, he was dedicated to serving the people of the north, providing religious services  and related services such as counselling. 

  This morning he appeared in the Supreme Court sitting at Baker Lake, and pleaded guilty to nine offences of sexual assault and indecent assault, committed over a period of seven years here in Baker Lake, and involving eight different young victims both male and female. For the purposes of these reasons, I will summarize the circumstances of each of these offences. 

  Count No. 3 involves an offence of indecent assault contrary to former Section 156 of the Criminal Code, which reads as follows: “Every male person who indecently assaults another  male person is guilty of an indictible offence and is liable to imprisonment for ten years.” 

  This crime was committed prior to the repeal of that section of the Criminal Code in January of 1983. 

  The victim was one J.U., who was about ten years old when his parents gave him into the care and custody of Father Dejaeger to help around the mission. This boy stayed with Eric Dejaeger at the mission residence for several years. 

  In August 1989 this boy told the police that, starting when he was ten or twelve years old, he and Father Dejaeger had sexual relations until last year when the boy was 17 years old. The two of them slept together, showered together, and the sexual activity involved masturbation and anal intercourse.

This sexual activity took place at the mission residence here in Baker Lake, and in other homes in Baker Lake where Father Dejaeger was housesitting from time to time, and also in a number of places in Europe when Father Dejaeger took a trip to  Europe and took the young boy with him. 

  Count No. 1 is an offence of sexual assault contrary to Section 246.1 of the Criminal Code. It represents the time period 1983 to 1989, and the numerous sexual assaults on J.U. that I have just mentioned. Section 246.1 of the Criminal Code, which is now Section 271, reads as follows:  “Everyone who commits a sexual assault is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years. 

  Count No. 9 is an offence of sexual assault committed on G.U., brother of J.U., between May 1986 and August 1986. This  young boy was one of Father Dejaeger’s altar boys, and also had occasion to stay at the mission residence. When he was apparently nine years of age, he too slept in bed with Eric Dejaeger. The sexual activity consisted of fondling, masturbation, and on a number of occasions, anal intercourse.

  Count No. 2 is an offence of sexual assault on a ten year old girl in 1987, and consisted of the offender, Eric Dejaeger, putting his hand inside the pants of the girl and inserting his finger in her vagina, on more than one occasion, at the mission residence. 

  Count No. 4 is an offence of sexual assault on another ten‑year old girl in 1987, and consisted of two separate incidents of rubbing her crotch area outside of her clothes,  again at the mission residence.

  Count No. 5 is an offence of sexual assault on another ten‑year old girl in 1987, and consisted of several incidents, over a period of a few days, of touching her crotch area and  her buttocks outside of her clothing, again at the mission residence. 

  Count No. 6 is an offence of sexual assault on a 14 year old  girl in 1987, and consisted of one incident of fondling in the crotch area, again outside of her clothing, and again it took place at the mission residence.  

  Count No. 7 is an offence of sexual assault over a four‑year period, 1984 to 1988, and consisted of a number of incidents where the offender, Eric Dejaeger, fondled the vaginal area of a girl who was born in 1972, underneath her clothing, and again it happened at the mission residence while she was visiting Father Dejaeger. 

  Count No. 8 is an offence of sexual assault on a thirteen‑year old boy in 1986, and consists of one incident of fondling in the genital area for a short period of time, outside of his clothing, and again at the mission residence.

  Those are the essential details of Father Dejaeger’s crimes. 

  The law requires that I now impose sentence, a sentence that is fit and proper in the circumstances. The Parliament of Canada has provided, for each one of these crimes, a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment in a federal penitentiary in Southern Canada. The Court has available a fairly wide range of sentences, and in choosing a fit and proper sentence, the Court is required to have regard to certain principles of sentencing that have been established by this Court and by higher courts over the years; and also to the particular circumstances of each offence, and to the individual circumstances of the offender who is before the Court. 

  The main purpose of criminal law, including the sentencing process, is the protection of the public; specifically in this case the protection of innocent young children. With this purpose in mind it is important that the Court, in imposing a sentence on a guilty offender, indicate to the offender and to others that our society repudiates or rejects this kind of criminal behaviour as unacceptable. 

  The sentence that is imposed in each case must be such as to deter or discourage the offender from ever again conducting  himself in this manner, and to discourage other men, who may find themselves in a similar position of trust, from taking advantage of an innocent young person for their own selfish sexual gratification. And finally the Court must keep in mind the objective of rehabilitation of this particular offender into a law abiding citizen who does not break society’s rules, and the sentence should therefore not be so harsh as to crush the offender and cause him to give up all hope of rehabilitating and reforming himself.

  The sexual abuse of children is a serious social problem of grave concern to people in this jurisdiction in recent years. Father Dejaeger must have been aware of this given his years of service in northern communities. 

  There are certain categories of sexual offenses that the courts have historically dealt with in a special way. One category is cases of sexual abuse of children by parents, or by those in loco parentis. The reason is that society, our society, places a high value on the integrity of the family unit, and also because a parent is in such a dominant role vis‑a‑vis his or her child. The courts have, by and large, imposed denunciatory sentences in cases of sexual abuse by parents. 

  Outside of the family unit there are other categories of sexual offenders to whom the courts have given particular attention. These are persons with whom young children will, in the normal course of their development, have contact as they are growing up, such as teachers or clergymen. These people are almost as important as parents in the formation of young people’s lives, and they are an essential part of our society. Parents and society generally are entitled to expect that these people are worthy of their trust and confidence in placing their young children in their care. When that trust is broken by the commission of a sexual assault upon the child, the person offends not only against the child but also against the parents and the community at large. 

  A clergyman such as Father Dejaeger must act with the utmost of good faith, and if he breaches that faith, he must expect that society will require him to pay a penalty. It is therefore an aggravating factor in this case that Eric Dejaeger was in a position of trust with respect to each one of these young victims who were in his home, because he was the parish priest and could normally be expected to behave himself. 

  It is also an aggravating factor that this criminal behaviour continued for such a long period of time. It does not appear that he stopped this activity on his own, but only when he was caught. Because of his calling or his vocation to be a missionary in the north, and also because of his vow of celibacy, I have no doubt that Father Dejaeger’s life was a difficult and a lonely life. However, many years ago he broke his vow of celibacy in committing these offences against children, and he gave in to his sexual urges. After that point in time, he showed poor judgment in continuing with his role as a Northern missionary without seeking treatment or counselling, or help from the Oblate Order, or from anyone else. 

  Three of these offences involve acts of sexual intercourse and are much more serious than the other six offences. But in each of these instances it must be said, and it must be made clear, that young people, children, are entitled to have the privacy of their bodies respected, especially by people who hold positions of honour and privilege in the community. 

  Although there are nine separate crimes involving many, many unlawful acts, I am obliged to keep in mind the totality or the global effect of the various sentences to be imposed. 

  Because of the age of the victims of these assaults, consent is not an issue or a factor to be considered. However, it should be noted in fairness to the offender here, that no violence was used in committing these assaults. 

  I am told one victim, J.U., has been taken to Winnipeg for counselling, and also that the Department of Social Services and the Catholic church have taken steps to give the other victims and their families the opportunity to receive psychiatric treatment and counselling here in the community of Baker Lake. I have no other information on the effect these assaults have had on the victims or their families. Defence counsel advises that the mother of J. and G.U. has told Father Dejaeger that she is no longer upset and has come to terms with what has happened, and for herself she is prepared to accept Father Dejaeger back into the community.

  At the sentencing hearing, documents were provided by Defence counsel, with no objection from the Crown, which contained opinions of professional doctors who interviewed and examined Eric Dejaeger. Upon reading those documents, I would simply say that I am not satisfied that Eric Dejaeger is a pedophile. From the facts that were provided to the Court today, in my view, this is simply a case of a lonely man who had normal sexual urges, which he repressed for many years because of his calling no doubt and who satisfied those sexual urges, not by approaching adults who were old enough or mature enough to say no to him, but by befriending or seducing young children who did not know enough, or were not courageous enough, to say no to him. 

  In mitigation, it is to Father Dejaeger’s credit that he has pled guilty to these crimes at the earliest opportunity, which has spared the young male and female victims the difficulty and embarassment of testifying about these matters in a public courtroom. I am satisfied that he is now remorseful for what he has done, and that he regrets the shame that he has brought upon the Oblate Order and the Catholic church generally.

  I am going to take into account his previous good character, and his record of service to the church and to the community generally, but that is of course only one of many factors which I must take into consideration. Because of his position, there will no doubt be an increased amount of publicity surrounding his conviction for these offences, and the resulting public disgrace is a form of punishment in itself. But when he was committing these crimes, Father Dejaeger knew who he was and what he was doing, and he should have given more consideration to the consequences of his behaviour. The Court can not really give too much concern to the amount of publicity or lack of publicity that is afforded any given case. In this case, as in all other cases, the Court has a clear responsibility to impose a fit and proper sentence that fits the crime and fits the particular criminal.

  In this case, for all of the foregoing reasons, and in particular because of the breaches of trust, the acts of anal intercourse with children and number of separate offences over an extended period of time, I am of the view that a substantial period of incarceration is required.

 I am urged by Defence counsel to fashion a sentence of three years probation, including treatment in a controlled environment, following a two‑year penitentiary term. I regret that I am unable to accede to that request. A two‑year term of imprisonment, with or without probation, in this case of repeated acts of sexual intercourse, would be inconsistent with other sentences imposed in this jurisdiction upon sexual offenders who have committed serious sexual assaults; and although no two cases are alike, or identical, such a sentence  would be seen as special treatment, as indeed I believe it would be. I do not enjoy the thought of sending an ordained priest to jail for a long period of time, but the law and the oath that I have taken requires that I do so.

  Taking into account all of the foregoing circumstances, and the submissions made on behalf of the Crown and on behalf of Father Dejaeger, it is my view a global or total sentence of five years is appropriate in this case. Please stand Father Dejaeger.

  Father Dejaeger, for the crimes that you have committed, it is the sentence of the Court that you serve a term of imprisonment as follows:

  Count 1, sexual assault on J.U., a period of five years. 

  On Count 2, sexual assault on B.‑J.P., a term of imprisonment of six months concurrent. 

  On Count 3, indecently assaulting J.U., a period of five years concurrent.

   On Count 4, sexually assaulting G.U., a term of imprisonment of three months concurrent.

   On Count 5, sexual assault on T.K., a term of imprisonment of three months concurrent.

   On Count 6, a sexual assault on S.T., a term of imprisonment of three months concurrent.

   On Count 7, a sexual assault on W.O., a term of imprisonment of six months concurrent.

   On Count 8, a sexual assault on A.A., a term of imprisonment of three months concurrent.

  And on Count 9, a sexual assault on G.U., a term of imprisonment of five years concurrent. You may sit down.

  Counsel, is there anything further required with respect to the case of Eric Dejaeger?

 MR. MCWHINNIE:  Nothing from the Crown, sir.

 MR. SCURFIELD:  Nothing from Defence.

 THE COURT:  No clarification required of the various sentences?

 MR. MCWHINNIE:  No My Lord.

 THE COURT:  Fine, close court till 9:30 tomorrow morning.

 End of document.

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