IQALUIT, Nunavut — A Nunavut judge has found a former Roman Catholic priest guilty of 24 of the more than 70 sex-related charges he faced involving Inuit children more than 30 years ago.
Defrocked Oblate priest Eric Dejaeger had already pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual assault when his trial began in December.
In his written decision, Justice Robert Kilpatrick noted that the time that had passed between when the assaults were alleged to have happened and the trial weakened the case.
“Judges and juries do not possess divine insight into the soul of witnesses who testify in a legal proceeding. Decisions must be made on the basis of evidence alone, not intuition or guesswork,” Kilpatrick wrote.
“The quantity and quality of the evidence available to the court in this case has been substantially weakened by the passage of time. The reliability of the Crown’s evidence on many counts is suspect. This is reflected by the results of this trial.”
The trial was marked by high emotion and lurid tales.
Witness after witness told court that Dejaeger used his position as Igloolik’s missionary to lure and trap them into sex, threatening them with hellfire or separation from their families if they told.
Dejaeger’s lawyer questioned the credibility of many of those accounts.
He pointed to the length of time that had passed since the alleged offences and the inconsistencies between different accounts.
He also suggested witnesses may have met to hone their testimony.
One thing that neither side questioned was the emotional pitch of the trial. It was common to hear witnesses howling and weeping outside court after their testimony.
Prosecutor Doug Curliss argued that enough common themes emerged from the testimony that the stories from the victims held together.
He said the accusations were similar to those Dejaeger pleaded guilty to in Baker Lake, Nunavut, where he was sent after leaving Igloolik. Dejaeger eventually served a five-year sentence on those charges.
The 67-year-old priest was initially slated to face his accusers from Igloolik in 1995, but instead left Canada for his Belgian homeland. Oblate officials have said that Canadian justice officials turned a blind eye to his leaving the country.
He was eventually returned to Canada when Belgian officials realized he was living in that country illegally.