Runaway Nunavut priest left few good memories

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“The people never had a chance to vent their anger at him”

Nunatsiaqonline.ca

NEWS: Nunavut September 23, 2010 – 11:26 am

JIM BELL

This past Sept. 14, Interpol issued a new arrest warrant for Father Eric Dejaeger

If Father Eric Dejaeger ever returns to Igloolik, he won’t find many outstretched arms or welcoming smiles. 

“The people never had a chance to vent their anger at him,” said an Igloolik woman who remembers the disgraced Roman Catholic missionary’s unhappy sojourn there between 1978 and about 1982. 

That anger arises from a big piece of unfinished business: a 15-year-old set of criminal charges for which Dejaeger, now 63, has never been brought to trial: three counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery.  

Cpl. Tom Power, then an RCMP member stationed in Igloolik, laid those charges — all alleging the sexual molestation of Igloolik children — on Feb. 19, 1995, after a lengthy investigation he conducted in 1993 and 1994. 

But no Canadian court ever dealt with them, despite bench warrants issued by the Nunavut court in 1995 and 2002, and an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol in 2001. 

Dejaeger, after serving out jail sentences imposed after earlier convictions on sex charges arising from his time in Baker Lake between 1982 and 1989, failed to appear at a court sitting set for June 13, 1995. 

The disgraced priest had by then fled Canada for Belgium, the country of his birth. For now, he continues to reside there, with a small group of Oblates at a large country villa near the town of Blanden. 

Igloolik residents, all of whom asked for anonymity because of their positions in the community, remember Dejaeger with distaste. 

“I don’t know why, but as soon as I saw him I didn’t like him,” one Igloolik man said.  

While in Igloolik, Dejaeger served under Father Robert Lechat, with whom he stayed at the community’s Roman Catholic mission. 

Unlike the beloved “Ataata Lechat,” who spoke Inuktitut fluently and lived in the community for many years, Dejaeger never made a good impression on his Inuit parishioners. 

“What I remember is that he wore very sexy jeans for a priest. It seems ridiculous to say that, but I remember he wore very tight jeans, which seemed unusual for a priest,” one woman said. 

Another described him as a “difficult person.”  

As for allegations of child abuse, some residents remember Power’s investigation and the subsequent charges, but no one remembers much talk of the matter within the community 

“Nobody ever talked about that here,” a woman said. 

In Belgium, however, Dejaeger’s story has been the subject of some very loud talk. 

A series of articles by journalist Douglas De Coninck in the Flemish-language De Morgen newspaper created an uproar in the country this past May, in relation to a series of child sex abuse scandals involving Roman Catholic priests. 

In those articles, De Coninck castigates Roman Catholic authorities in Belgium and Canada, accusing them of protecting Dejaeger. 

“Internal documents of the congregation show that the Flemish fathers deliberately hid their pedophile brother from Interpol,” his May 22 article alleges. 

And he accuses the Belgian church of attempting to mislead an inquiry led by a magistrate named Godelieve Halsberghe, who compiled a lengthy dossier on Dejaeger. 

“A most remarkable correspondence was started, in which the Oblates first denied to know anything about the reasons of Father Eric’s sudden return from Canada and later acknowledged that they had been informed in detail about the conviction and the reasons for the conviction,” De Coninck wrote. 

Following De Coninck’s revelations, Interpol, on Sept. 14, issued a new warrant for his arrest. On Sept. 13, the Reuters news agency reported the possibility extradition proceedings between Belgium and Canada 

On Sept. 15, an embarrassed Belgian government issued a statement saying Dejaeger lost his Belgian citizenship some time after he became a Canadian citizen in 1977. 

As for Dejaeger’s sexual activities with Inuit children in Baker Lake, they are well documented in court records. 

On April 20, 1990, in sentencing Dejaeger to five years in prison for convictions on nine sex charges involving children, Justice Ted Richard of the Northwest Territories Supreme Court found that, in his opinion, Dejaeger, notwithstanding his activities with children, is not 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,” Richard said in his decision. 

One of Dejaeger’s victims was a boy with whom Dejaeger maintained a sexual relationship for a period of between five and seven years. 

“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,” Richard noted. 

This story was researched with assistance from a source in Belgium close to Godelieve Halsberghe’s investigation. We also thank Sanders Dankelman for his help in translating a Flemish news article into English.

Father Eric Dejaeger co-celebrating mass  at St. John the Evangelist Church in Blanden with two other priests on March 15, 2009, despite an order from his provincial council in 2001 to stop performing pastoral duties.

Father Eric Dejaeger co-celebrating mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Blanden with two other priests on March 15, 2009, despite an order from his provincial council in 2001 to stop performing pastoral duties.

18 Responses to Runaway Nunavut priest left few good memories

  1. 1yellowknife says:

    Thank you, Jim Bell. Hearing directly from Nunavut on this matter is important. Note the description of the relationship with the Inuit youngster who was taken to Belgium with de Jaeger. The Oblates still deny there was sexual abuse involved… this information contradicts that claim. Hope the Belgian authorities are (made) aware.

  2. Michel Bertrand says:

    I was the social worker who interviewed those children with the RCMP and helped put together a community response. The older boy had to receive treatment in Ottawa for the severity of his on-going abuse. Dejaeger had a button pon his parka when he attended court saying everyone makes mistakes, forgetting the lights on is a mistake abusing 35-40 children is criminal

  3. Sylvia says:

    Was that court for the Baker Lake crimes Michel, or those in Igloolik?

    I can’t believe it. He wore a button saying ‘Everyone makes mistakes”?! How perverse is that?

  4. Michel Bertrand says:

    Hi Sylvia and readers yes it was at the hotel in baker alke and he did wear a button with that saying. I was appalled that the RC community did support him, thnak you for clarifying that the abuse in igloolik occured prior to Baker Lake. I think the RC church and governemnt has a responsibility to have this man extradited and to be held to account for his criminal actions. It was nice talking with you sylvia keep up the good work ! I am sad however that it has to be done.

  5. Sylvia says:

    Thanks Michel.

    For the benefit of all, I contacted Michel by email and then by phone. I believe we shall be hearing more of the pivotal role Michel played in Father Dejaeger’s arrest in Baker Lake.

    There is one thing I must add to what has been said. That “We all make mistakes” button which Dejaeger sported in court – Dejaager had it pinned at the tip of the hood of his parka. That meant that with the hood down, and sitting as he was at the front of the room, all those sitting behind had to look at Dejaeger’s message: “We all make mistakes”!

  6. Lieve Halsberghe says:

    Hello all,

    Sylvia and I have been working on this case for months. It is time that we push things forward now. Both in Canada and in Belgium. We have lots of press attention. I need to speak to all people involved, also in Canada. You may contact me by e-mail at lievehalsberghe@hotmail.com.
    At the moment I need to speak to Michel urgently. I also need to speak to someone close to the Igloolik community. I have talked to mr. Ivalu.
    From Belgium, Lieve

  7. Michel Bertrand says:

    Hi again, I spoke at lenght with Lieve and I have indicated that I am prepared to speak with anyone who would like to know the impact that this event had on the community of Baker Lake at the time of the disclosure. Baker Lake went from being the Inuit artistic capital of the then NWT to the Sexual Abuse capital of NWT.It affected these children and their fellow community members catholic or otherwise deeply and shook my faith to the core. I am sure that the parents of all affected did not enter willingly into a collusion with this man’s crimes and that it was not ok as the church seems to have portrayed since it was not reported by the parents but by social services. What was done to those people was wrong and what is alleged to have occured in Igloolik was wrong and this person should answer and account for those actions as any individual citizen in our country should and does regardlesss of office or position.

    • Ramelle Mair says:

      This is a message to Michel Bertrand. My name is Ramelle and I am researching a documentary dealing with Inuit Youth Suicide. One of our main characters is from Igloolik. And the co-director (Marie-Helene Cousineau) has worked for 20 years in Igloolik. We would like a chance to talk with you to explain more about our documentary and to see if we could arrange an interview with you to share how you helped these children and community members. It is very obvious that one of the main underlying reasons for such a dramatic suicide rate in the North (10 times higher than the rest of Canada) is due to sexual abuse. And we would like to expose where that is stemming from and highlight the Dejaeger case. I hope to hear back from you soon so I can we can talk. Thank you, Ramelle

  8. 1yellowknife says:

    This thread of emails – of the past 2 weeks – is utterly and completely amazing.

    Sylvia: thank you for your brilliant work in providing a forum for Lieve, Michel, Nunatsiaq News and many more.

    Michel: Thank you so very much. I would like to take you up on your offer to speak about impacts but how do we connect. Sylvia, would you please be willing to help out and provide Michel with my email address, or provide me with his – whatever works best.

    Lieve: U bent mijn held!! Wees verzekerd dat ook hier in het verre noorden van Canada uw werk gesteund en bewonderd wordt.

  9. Michel Bertrand says:

    i can be reached at mikeb57@hotmail.ca

  10. Michel Bertrand says:

    the effects of sexual abuse has contributed greatly to Iglooliks 4-6 timess higher rates of suicide. Did any of dejaegers alledged victims die as result see

    http://www.cmha.ca/data/1/rec_docs/1125_Unikkaartuit%20-%20Meanings%20of%20Well-Being,%20Sadness,%20Suicide,%20and%20Change%20in%20Two%20Inuit%20Communities%20-%20February%202003.pdf

  11. Sylvia says:

    Thnaks for that link and info Michel. Very disturbing indeed.

    Micehl, we talked a few days ago. You have much to offer in our understanding of what happened in Baker Lake. You played a pivotal role in seeing Dejaeger charged. You sat in the hot/court room throughout the trial. You met with Bishop Rouleau.

    I believe you can relay the details so much better than I. I have asked and you graciously agreed to give an account of the events which led to Dejaeger’s conviction in Baker Lake.

    You can proceed as wish, but I suggest start with what led to knwledge that Father Eric Dejaeger was sexually abusing children in Baker Lake. I or others may ask questions for clarification.

    The ‘floor’ is yours….

  12. Michel Bertrand says:

    To the best of my recollection and having meditated and prayed on this for several days now as I was upset that the person we had confronted judicially escaped responsibility and additional charges where pending so as result here is my best understanding of the facts while I was involved in this case.

    The initial concern that came to the attention to the then Government of Northwest Territories social services office and myself as supervisor level 5 was that a young girl while doing volunteer work in the local day care was caught in the washrooms playing a sexual game with small young children of various professionals ages 4-9 years. She was approximately 13-14 years of age. She was charged and convicted under YOA legislation and was sentenced to a treatment group home that was researched and found by the Baker Lake office of social services in Fort Smith. I seem to recall it as being called Trail Cross as indicated below.

    http://www.boscohomes.ca/OurPrograms/GroupCare/TCTC.aspx

    During her stay she disclosed to an attendant that she had been sexually abused by a family member and mentioned that she and 2 other young girls had been in the Roman Catholic rectory and had been touched sexually by Eric Dejeager. Our office in Baker Lake was alerted and I was sent to Trail Cross and conducted an interview as she was a resident of our communtiy and the occurences was within the Keewatin District.

    Upon returning to Baker Lake that information was disclosed to Cpl Kim Melenchuk RCMP who charged the family member and began inquiries into the abuse allegations that the Roman Catholic priest had abused those 2 other children, they disclosed that they had been touched and indicated other occurences with other children and they were interviewed and disclosed still other children in all several children had been in and out of the rectory and ppresbyttary and I am going on by my best recollection that 20-30 children had been contacted however that the information would only warrent the charges as laid by Cpl Melenchuk on the 9 various counts as documented by the supreme court judgement.
    The family member was convicted as charged as well in the matter of the initial disclosing child.

    The older boy was interviewed on the fact that it was known in the community that he had been staying in the presbytary with Dejeager and that he had been to Belgium during his time with Dejeager. I was in the Baker Lake RCMP office at the time of the interview and he disclosed being buggered, showering, touching and masterbating the priest repeatedly and that this was on-going throughout the relationship as well as during his sojourn in Belgium.

    Dejeager was charged and was sent to stay in Arviat a small coastal community and the social worker in that communtiy heard that he might be sent to work in the school while the charges where pending. The RCMP and GNWT social services warned the diocese that under no circumstances should he be allowed access to children while in Arviat.

    Bishop Rouleau was in Baker Lake on two oocassions while this matter was being heard and GNWT social services was giving pressure to the diocese to redress the effects that these events would have on all members of the community. The bishop did say to me in my office in the afternoon as I recall, that the diocese did not have very much money and that they could not afford much in terms of monies towards restititution resources. He asked if this writer was catholic and asked from what parished I hailed. On the second visit he indicated who the parish priest was in my families community.

    At that point GNWT was proposing that 3 community sexual abuse workers specializing in first nation communities out of Alberta be brouhgt in to live in Baker Lake for one year. The details of this program was signed by my supervisors Greg ? and Debbie ? from the regional office in the same building as my office in Baker Lake. I unfortunately do not recall their last names. The sum as I recall was approximately 130,000.00 dollars. No discussion on damages or restitution to the vicitims was ever discussed with myself or the regional office as far as I remember.

    During the court proceeding Dejeager entered the court room with several catholic supporters, his lawyers and he sat at the front. 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 parkla’s hood that read “everybody makes mistakes” If my memory serves me it was white with green lettering. He was sentenced and I recall being upset that the judge did not consider him a peadophile despite the charges being against children and the reports by his lawyers doctors. I had mixed feeling with respect that he was seen of good character for having plead guilty and not having put the children through testimony.

    With respect to the older young boy special counselling was set up for him in Ottawa due to the lenght and severity of the abuse and I accompanied him to that city. He stayed with his sister and my role was to get him to and from the hospital for his counselling sessions. He was taught how to use the transit system, recognize landmarks much like inukshuks would be used on the land and how to orient himself should he get lost. I stayed one week and upon his being able to meet me at an agreed location in Ottawa on his own I felt that he would be able to get himself to his counselling sessions on his own and should he require with the additional assisstance of his sister and her husband.

    To say this only impacted the catholic community in this hamlet would be understimated, local government, businesses, the schools and other children had all been made aware of these issues. In fact the catholic composition of the community was smaller than the anglican parish and I understand that shortly after my leaving the anglican minister was also charged for the same types of sexual abuse against children.

    As I said in aprevious post prior to my involvement in Baker Lake it was the cultural jewel of the NWT and upon leaving it was known as the community with the most sexual abuse in the north. Those kids, the people, the land and that community was a wonderful place and they deserved better, much better.

    Shortly after these measures where put in place and having had my fill of dealing with this matter as I was feeling sickened, I boarded a plane and got a job breaking dishes at the Banff Spring Hotel, dissilluisned with the churches power meanderings and how they addressed these abuse issues from a perspective of money, power and risk management. I have never been to a church since as a practicing catholic. I have wondered many sleepless nights how the young fellow and those children got on and if suicides had occured as result of this man’s crimes. In fact I had occassion to work as a supervisor in a Native Child Welfare agency in the James Bay area and came accross a good document and sent a teacher in Baker Lake current community resources that I had in my possession to continue to deal with the effect of community sexual abuse from a First Nation perspective.

    I was and am very upset to here that this individual has abused again and that he was hidden by the church. I read the letter posted on this site by the oblate JP and if I hid my brother from such crimes, I would be charged with obstruction of justice or aiding and abeiting a criminal why is the Church any different.

    Bring him back, afford him his constitutional rights, no more no less and have him account to the people of Igloolik they deserve closure.

    • Alice says:

      How can we get in touch with you Michel? I am working on this story for the CBC (As It Happens). Please call me at 416-205-7013 as soon as you can.

  13. Sylvia says:

    Thank you Michel. Thank you so much.

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