Sex charges against priest shock to northern town

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 Edmonton Journal

29 August 1989

YELLOWKNIFE — To those who knew Eric Dejaeger as a friendly, understanding man, news of the Arctic priest’s seven sexual assault charges was shocking.

But to some of his native parishioners in Baker Lake, N.W.T., the bearded, sandy- haired Father Eric was someone who frightened children.

For them, the 42-year-old priest’s departure in May at the advice of Bishop Reynald Rouleau was welcome.

“They don’t want him to come back,” said Happie Aasivaaiyuk, a radio operator in the town of 1,100, located 600 km northeast of Yellowknife.

Dejaeger appears in Yellowknife territorial court today for a bail hearing where it is expected his lawyer will ask for a psychiatric evaluation of his client before any trial proceedings take place.

The priest, who is originally from Belgium, was arrested Aug. 21 in Langley B.C., following a lengthy investigation by the Yellowknife RCMP. He was charged with seven counts of sexual assault alleged to have taken place in Baker Lake during the past several years.

Bishop Rouleau, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Churchill Hudson Bay, serving the Eastern Arctic, said he learned in April from someone outside the community that Dejaeger may face charges.

“For his liberty and his internal freedom, I thought it was preferable for him to leave and he was totally at ease with that because he was not comfortable there,” Rouleau said Monday in an interview from his hometown of Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec.

Dejaeger, who was scheduled months before the charges to take a year’s sabbatical starting in September to study linguistics and the Inuit language of Inuktitut, went to a religious house in Winnipeg, then attended a missionary meeting in June in Edmonton.

“He was a little stressed and nervous, but there was nothing official, there was nothing public at that time,” Rouleau said.

Dejaeger was studying linguistics in Langley when he was arrested, the bishop added.

Rouleau said he is shocked with the situation because “I never heard anything negative about him. He’s a man who relates very easily to people and all kinds of people.”

Allan Hart, manager of the Hudson’s Bay store in Baker Lake and a long-time friend of Dejaeger’s, said he can’t believe the charges.

“He’s a very good personal friend of mine for the past 10 years. I didn’t notice any personal problems or anything. I think he’s perfectly normal.

“He liked to hunt and fish. He’s pretty easy-going — he’s not your typical priest who wears a collar and all that.”

Hart said Dejaeger, who baptized both his children, has been the talk of the town since the charges were laid.

“A lot of people find it really hard to believe — everybody’s pretty shocked.”

Since Dejaeger’s departure, the tiny green wooden church where he worked and lived has been used only once by visiting priest Joannes Rivoire of Eskimo Point, N.W.T., who held a service for the town’s 100 Roman Catholics about a week before the charges were laid.

Rouleau said he would be willing to help Dejaeger professionally, emotionally and spiritually, if he is found guilty.

Regardless of the outcome of his trial, Dejaeger will not work in the tight-knit town of Baker Lake again because it would be too difficult for him, Rouleau said.

Dejaeger came to Canada in 1973. He has worked in the Arctic communities of Repulse Bay, Pelly Bay, Igloolik, and for the past six years, Baker Lake.

3 Responses to Sex charges against priest shock to northern town

  1. Lieve Halsberghe says:

    Sylvia,
    this article says he worked in other communities as well!
    Please read through it well!!! Names!

  2. Michel B. says:

    Why did he leave Pelly Bay and Repulse….um 24 and counting still this is so disheartening for the distress it causes to survivors, the families and the communities as a whole and much withouth any support hopefully only untill court gets settled and then those responsible should ponie up the resources needed to help people get past his passing through the north. I understand that a men’s survivors group is active out of Rankin or Iqualuit and it might be a good idea to ask them to provide some direction on needed supports or what would have been helpful back when. Sadly the group was born of abuse in a residential settings by clerical staff and part of the reason for the church’s current efforts at making some form of amends.

    The translation of the groups name is men standing up… it depicts the courage that it takes to face their truth, to share it appropriately and to allow society to admonish the responsible for their criminal acts. A reclamation of self.

    Keep on believing that you have a right to peace within yourself it will come.

  3. Michel B. says:

    Just an aside did you notice that the bishop spoke of support for Eric professionally, emotionally and spiritually, if he is found guilty. and then again says, Regardless of the outcome of his trial, Dejaeger will not work in the tight-knit town of Baker Lake again because it would be too difficult for him,(for him) Rouleau said.

    Not one word about how difficult it would be for the kids, the families and the community.. but poor Eric will get a trip to Belgium, get his tracks covered deceitfully and then advised of the deceit on his behalf,(documented) he will not be flagged by his superiors as a convicted pedophile and will be allowed access to children for an additional 20 years despite the church knowing he was convicted once and a fugitive additional charges of sexual assault of children. I would say Bishop Rouleau and his brethren have followed through with their assertions of support and……… they do it for all of them.thats the wrong…. not a word about the children !

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