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Defrocked priest who abused dozens of Inuit children out of prison

A defrocked Oblate priest who was convicted of dozens of horrendous sexual crimes against Inuit children has been granted parole.
Eric Dejaeger leaves an Iqaluit, Nunavut courtroom on Jan. 20, 2011. A defrocked Oblate priest who has been convicted of dozens of horrendous sexual crimes against Inuit children is now out on parole.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Windeyer

A defrocked Oblate priest who was convicted of dozens of horrendous sexual crimes against Inuit children has been granted parole.

Eric Dejaeger, 75, was sentenced to 19 years for crimes committed between 1978 and 1982 in the Nunavut community of Igloolik, where he was a missionary. The offences included indecent assault, unlawful confinement, buggery, unlawful sexual intercourse and bestiality.

He pleaded guilty to eight counts and was convicted of another 24 on children mostly between the ages of eight and 12. The details were so appalling the judge’s sentencing came with a content warning.

"You were in a position of great trust in relation to the victims, which you used to groom and silence them," said the decision from the Parole Board of Canada. 

"You also used physical violence and caused serious physical injuries to some of the victims. The victims suffered devastating and ongoing emotional and psychological harm."

The May 19 document outlines the conditions of his statutory release, which comes when an offender has served two-thirds of a sentence. His parole comes with a long list of restrictions, including that he must return to an approved residence every night.

The decision did not reveal where Dejaeger is to live.  

Dejaeger can't be around children without the presence of a guardian and must continue therapy for his sexual deviance. He must report any new friendship.

The parole board considers him a low to moderate risk to reoffend. Although he completed different courses of therapy, the board questioned his motivation to change.

"Regarding change, you presented as being content with yourself," the decision said. "Your self-management plans needed some improvement."

Dejaeger's parole may be the final chapter in his long and tortured history in Canada.

Born in Belgium, he became a Canadian citizen in 1977 and was ordained the following year. 

Before his trial for the Igloolik crimes, Dejaeger had served part of a five-year sentence for sex charges stemming from a posting in Baker Lake, Nunavut, between 1982 and 1989. 

After his release in 1991, Dejaeger learned RCMP were investigating his activities in Igloolik. Before facing trial on those charges, he fled to Belgium.

Oblate officials have acknowledged that they knew Dejaeger was about to depart. They have also said Canadian justice officials suggested that the easiest thing was for him to simply leave Canada, and Dejaeger was told he wouldn't be bothered if he stayed away.

Dejaeger remained in Belgium, performing some functions of a Catholic priest, until 2011, when he was extradited back to Canada over immigration violations. 

He remained in custody until his trial in 2014 and 2015, which roiled many in Nunavut and especially Igloolik.

Before the trial began, the territorial government sent two extra mental health workers to the community. An additional psychiatric nurse was present during video conferencing with the hearing, which was held in Iqaluit.

The serving Catholic priest in Igloolik also had to leave temporarily after receiving threats. 

During the trial, witness after witness left court only to be heard outside, howling and weeping in anguish.

At its end, Justice Robert Kilpatrick pleaded with the victims to find a way to trust again and to find the good in other people. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2022. 

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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