IQALUIT, Nunavut — There’s a smell that brings it all back.
One whiff, and once again he’s a little boy being raped by a priest in a dank furnace room at the Catholic mission in Igloolik, Nunavut.
“Whenever I smell moldy wood, it takes me back to that place,” the man told a court in Iqaluit on Monday during the sentencing hearing for his onetime tormentor. “It makes me angry.”
Eric Dejaeger, a defrocked Oblate priest, was convicted last fall for 32 sex crimes ranging from indecent assault to bestiality against Inuit children. A long lineup of his former victims, who were children between 1978 and 1982 when the assaults occurred, are finally getting their chance to tell Dejaeger what he did to them in a two-day hearing which began under heavy security.
More than a dozen people were expected to testify on Monday, including the man haunted by that odour.
Dejaeger left him with lingering medical and mental problems, he said. He said he lost his job in Igloolik last year because Dejaeger’s trial upset him so much he couldn’t function.
One woman told court she blames Dejaeger for the scars that have been diagnosed on her womb. Others say they still suffer nightmares.
Many spoke of lingering anger and depression and of attempts to flee those feelings through booze and drugs. One victim blamed her illiteracy on Dejaeger, saying she as left with a fear of school that prevented her from learning.
“Because I was abused by a priest, it affected my chance for a normal life,” she said. “I will forever grieve the girl I was before this abuse.”
Dejaeger was convicted in September on 24 counts of indecent assault, one of unlawful confinement, two of buggery, three of unlawful sexual intercourse, one of sexual assault and one of bestiality. He had already pleaded guilty to eight sex-related counts at the start of the trial.
The victims include 12 boys and 10 girls. Dejaeger also abused a dog in front of two children. Most were between the ages of eight and 12, although they could have been as young as four and as old as 18.
Many told court during Dejaeger’s trial that he used his position as Igloolik’s missionary to trap them into sex, threatening them with hellfire or separation from their families if they told. Sometimes he dangled food in front of hungry children to lure them.
He is to appear in Edmonton on Friday on four other sex-related charges.
Dejaeger has already served one five-year sentence on 11 counts of assaulting children in Baker Lake, Nunavut, where he was posted after Igloolik.
It was in 1995, after he had served that sentence, that he learned RCMP were about to charge him for his activities in Igloolik. Before his court date arrived, he fled to his native Belgium.
Oblate officials have acknowledged that they knew Dejaeger was about to depart. They have also said that Canadian justice officials suggested that the easiest thing was for him to simply leave Canada, where he had become a citizen. They have said Dejaeger was told he wouldn’t be bothered if he stayed away.
For 16 years, he lived quietly in homes maintained by the Oblates despite an international warrant for his arrest. Eventually, journalists revealed that Dejaeger was living illegally in Belgium. He was returned to Canada in 2011.
Final arguments in Dejaeger’s sentencing hearing are expected Wednesday.