Lives destroyed by DejaegerSex crime victims give statements at former priest's sentencing hearing
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 26, 2015
Horrific sex crimes were revisited at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit Jan. 19 to 22 as victim impact statements were presented at the sentencing hearing for convicted child molester and former Oblate priest Eric Dejaeger.
Convicted child molester and former Oblate priest Eric Dejaeger arrives at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit Jan. 20 to attend a four-day sentencing hearing where the court heard victim impact statements from the adults he abused when they were children. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo
All 32 convictions, dated Dec. 8, 2014 - including indecent assault, sexual assault, unlawful sexual intercourse, buggery and bestiality - are related to sex crimes committed against Inuit children and youth between four and 20 years of age in Iglulik between 1978 and 1982.
Eighteen victim impact statements were presented, some read into the record by Crown prosecutor Barry Nordin, some by support people and some passed on to Justice Robert Kilpatrick, after several victims chose not to have their pain revisited out loud.
All victims shared the immense, irreparable and painful losses Dejaeger's sex crimes against them as children caused in their lives.
The impact of the crimes included loss of a relationship with God and a spiritual life, loss of relationships with parents who didn't believe them, loss of trusting relationships with partners and children who would bear the brunt of their anger and depression, loss of the ability to cope with memories, and nightmares that drove them to use alcohol, drugs and other substances.
Suicide attempts and the desire to die are common among the victims, it was revealed in the courtroom, where sobbing, wailing and other pained utterances were heard continuously over four days.
Statements indicated how the horror of their childhoods had an impact on the victims' own children.
Along with having abandoned the church, one victim said he could not have his young daughter baptized.
One victim said she experienced "anger and depression" and was "unable to fully speak about feelings."
|"My heart is forever broken and it cannot be put back together."
She turned to alcohol and drugs to cope, even as she turned her anger on her husband and her children.
This statement was similar to many of the other victims, who shared their feelings of being deeply hurt. "I feel shame," said one. "I have memories and nightmares. I don't like myself."
"I will forever grieve the girl I was and the woman I could have been."
As those words were read, the victim sobbed in court.
Another statement, in relation to an incident for which Dejaeger was convicted of unlawful sexual assault, relayed how a doctor told a woman she had scars on her womb, which accounted for why she had several miscarriages. She adopted, and her son committed suicide.
She mourned her son and her inability to know how to help him and others.
Yet another victim said, "He broke my life ... When I had my son, I never trusted men around my son. Now I can't trust him. I've had issues about that all my life.
"When I smell moldy wood, I go back to that place," referring to the location in Iglulik where indecent assault and buggery were committed against him.
Unfinished schooling, the inability to hold work, loss of trust in authority, and suicide attempts were noted by several victims.
"I was molested and desecrated."
"My wife gets the brunt."
"People might think I am a molester because I've been molested."
Several don't leave their houses much.
"I was violent and abusive to my family. I wanted to die."
"My heart is forever broken and it cannot be put back together."
Over and over again the court heard about the trail of destruction Dejaeger left behind him in Iglulik, while the pain of the victims could be heard in sobs and wailing.
One victim was silent, face contorted with pain as tears rolled down his cheeks while statements were read aloud. The victims comforted each other and were supported by workers brought in to help them through the ordeal.
One lone victim spoke directly to the court, reading a section of her own statement, a choice of biblical passages suggesting Dejaeger was not a man of God but, rather, a man who God will punish.
"That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified ... For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness."
The victim's voice wavered and broke, and she paused to catch her breath before she continued.
"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
Dejaeger was convicted on a count of indecent assault on this woman when she was a young girl between the ages of four and eight.
On the third day of the sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss requested Dejaeger be sentenced to 25 years, minus eight for his four years in remand.
Following the submission, he painstakingly read out the facts with all the horrific graphic detail of each of the 32 counts and assigned a sentence to each count. The process took at least two hours and resulted in a great deal of sobbing in the emotionally charged courtroom. Several of the victims left the room while the Crown went though the details of each charge.
Dejaeger's position of trust as a priest was cited as an aggravating factor. By the Crown's calculation, Dejaeger ought to serve 79.75 years in prison if sentences per victim were served consecutively, one after the other. Curliss acknowledged that the law states "a combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh" and that 80 years is not realistic.
However, Curliss pointed to the gravity of the crimes and the moral culpability of the accused to justify his request for as lengthy a sentence as possible.
"From 80 years to 25 years is a significant reduction in the face of what's happened here," said Curliss.
If the Crown has its way, Dejaeger will be 84 years old when he is released. Dejaeger will turn 68 in a few months.
Curliss said Dejaeger has already enjoyed his parole via a life in Belgium for 15 years after fleeing what was then five Iglulik-related charges against him in 1995.
A total of 80 charges were eventually brought against him in a trial that took place in late 2013 and early 2014.
Defence attorney Malcolm Kempt called the Crown's sentence submission "heavy handed and not appropriate given the circumstances" and "crushing."
Kempt compared his client to other convicted child sex offenders, reading out lists of long-term egregious sexual torture, outlining the grisly details of sexual crimes against children ostensibly far worse than the ones committed by Dejaeger, noting those predators received concurrent sentences of three and five years.
Kempt pointed out the difference between "simple rape versus outright depravity."
Kempt also noted that in Dejaeger's case there was "no active use of his position to hide his offences."
He put forward the notion that his client was not fleeing from the scene of a crime but merely absconding from a court appearance after he fled to Belgium. Dejaeger hid out in Belgium until he was extradited to Canada in 2011. Also at play are the relevance of psychological reports related to Dejaeger, the absence of medical reports attesting to his alleged cancer treatments and heart condition, the sexual assault convictions from his time in Baker Lake from 1982 to 1989, and his age. Kempt said his client has a "real fear of dying in custody."
Kempt respectfully declined Kilpatrick's repeated requests that the defence provide suggested count-by-count sentencing, saying that "forces me to come up with a crushing sentence."
Throughout the proceedings, Dejaeger sat expressionless, with his gaze fixed in the direction of the Crown, sometimes glancing at Kilpatrick. He occasionally communicated with his lawyer.
In the last moments of the hearing, after the Crown's rebuttal on Jan. 22, Dejaeger was given the opportunity to speak to his sentencing. He stood, braced against the table, back to the victims in court, and said to Kilpatrick, "I can only take responsibility for what I have done."
"I ask forgiveness from the victims, their families and my family."
As sobs and wailing filled the courtroom once again, Dejaeger promised he would not re-offend.
Dejaeger referred to extensive counselling he received while serving five years in prison during the early 1990s for sexually assaulting young boys in Baker Lake.
Kilpatrick said he hopes to have his sentencing decision in writing within two weeks.
"There's much to consider," said Kilpatrick. "I do not intend, with a case of this size, to rush to judgment."