Priest returning from Belgium to face sex charges

A missionary priest who fled Canada more than 15 years ago after being accused of sex crimes against Inuit children is expected to finally return to face the charges against him this week.

Eric Dejaeger

Eric Dejaeger

A missionary priest who fled Canada more than 15 years ago after being accused of sex crimes against Inuit children is expected to finally return to face the charges against him this week.

RCMP confirm that Rev. Eric Dejaeger is being expelled from Belgium and will be sent to Iqaluit, Nunavut, where he will be immediately taken into custody.

“Once he arrives in Canada, the RCMP will escort Dejaeger up to the Nunavut courthouse,” Const. Lucy Shorey said Tuesday. “The court date will be determined by the Nunavut justice.”

Shorey said for security reasons, police would not release the time and place of Dejaeger’s arrival. Belgian officials confirmed Dejaeger was to board a plane on Wednesday. Media in that country reported he would fly to Montreal.

Dejaeger, who was originally Belgian but lost that status when he became a Canadian citizen, remains wanted in Canada on warrants issued in 2002 for sex crimes that are alleged to have happened 30 years ago in Igloolik, Nunavut.

Dejaeger, 63, has been living in Belgium for years — far longer than the legal limit of three months for Canadians without a visa.

The former Arctic missionary, who appeared on Interpol’s international wanted list, was being held in a detention centre for illegal residents in Bruges, Belgium. He is being expelled from that country for immigration violations, not at Canada’s request.

Dejaeger came to Canada from Belgium in 1973. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest of the Oblate order and eventually began work as a missionary in the Arctic, where he served in several communities.

According to court documents, Dejaeger pleaded guilty in 1990 to nine counts of sex crimes against boys and girls in Baker Lake, a small Inuit community in the central barrens of what is now Nunavut.

The crimes, committed between 1982 and 1989, ran from inappropriate touching to the rape of two boys who occasionally slept overnight at the mission residence. One boy was Dejaeger’s victim from the ages of 10 to 17.

Dejaeger was sentenced to five years in prison for those offences.

But in June 1995 Dejaeger was charged again with more crimes against children alleged to have occurred between 1978 and 1982 in Igloolik on the northwest tip of Hudson Bay. Those charges were six counts of indecent assault and buggery involving four different individuals.

He didn’t show up for his court date.

“It was determined later that Dejaeger had fled to Belgium,” said Sgt. Jimmy Akavak of the Iqaluit RCMP. “He’s been wanted ever since.”

Another warrant was issued in 2002 on those charges.

“I think it’s a good thing that Father Eric’s coming back to Canada and hopefully to Nunavut to face charges,” said Igloolik Mayor Lucasi Ivvalu, who remembers often seeing Dejaeger walking his dog around town.

“When he was here, he acted as though he was a really decent man. We thought he was someone that was a friend.”

Many in Igloolik have forgotten all about Dejaeger or never knew him, Ivvalu said, but he added it’s still important for a trial to be held.

“If in fact the court proves that Eric Dejaeger has done what he’s been accused of doing, we have to go through that. We cannot simply ignore the victims.

“Most of them have wives and families now and would definitely want to do some healing — not only the victims, but the community.”

Akavak said Dejaeger’s alleged victims have been informed of the new developments.

“(They) have been updated as to what’s happening. Hopefully, they will come when this is dealt with in court.”

According to Belgian media, Dejaeger has been living in an Oblate monastery and has worked in the Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes, France, where he received Flemish pilgrims.

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