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.