POLITICS

Defence questions memory, motivation of priest's alleged sex abuse victims

11/19/2013 11:25 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
IQALUIT, Nunavut - The defence lawyer for a priest facing dozens of charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of children in a remote Arctic hamlet is questioning the memory and motivation of the complainants.

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Malcolm Kempt spent Tuesday morning cross-examining a woman who testified that Eric Dejaeger taped her face-down by her wrists and feet to a steel bed frame and sodomized her when she was nine or 10 years old.

Kempt asked about her reasons for coming forward with her story.

"Have you ever talked to people about what happened with Eric Dejaeger?" he asked.

"I could not voice it," responded the witness through a translator. She pointed to her throat.

"It was stuck in there."

Kempt asked if she'd met with a lawyer about coming to a $16,000 out-of-court settlement with the Catholic church. The woman said she had.

The lawyer involved in those negotiations has previously confirmed to The Canadian Press that at least 30 such settlements have been reached with regard to Dejaeger's activities in Igloolik, Nunavut, between 1978 and 1982.

A previous witness in the trial acknowledged she received about $55,000 from the church.

In his cross-examination, Kempt asked the woman if she'd seen media reports on Dejaeger, who has previous convictions for sexual abuse of children. He asked if she'd gone to police or if police had come to her.

The woman denied seeing anything about the priest on television. She said the police had sought her out.

Kempt went on to test the witness's memory by asking her what Dejaeger was wearing at the time and by requesting that she outline specific events around the alleged attack.

Kempt said when the trial opened Monday that the memory and credibility of alleged victims about events 30 years ago are key to Dejaeger's defence.

"The only defence Mr. Dejaeger has after this long period of time has to do with the memory and credibility of the complainants," Kempt told Judge Robert Kilpatrick, who is hearing the case alone without a jury.

Kilpatrick has warned Kempt about delving into any substance abuse or addictions history of the complainants.

Tuesday's witness told the judge her bowels were permanently damaged by Dejaeger's attack. Her hearing was also affected after he ejaculated into her ear, she said.

Another witness has testified that she was only able to stop Dejaeger from raping her by defecating on him. Court heard he forced children to watch him having sex with his dog.

Proceedings had to adjourn early Tuesday due to a raging blizzard in Iqaluit that shut down all government services in the Nunavut capital.

Dejaeger was originally charged in 1995 with three counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery, a charge no longer in the Criminal Code. But he left the country and returned to his homeland of Belgium before his court appearance.

Belgian officials sent him back in 2011 when they discovered he was living there illegally.

The number of counts against Dejaeger didn't balloon until the late 1990s, when more alleged victims from Igloolik began coming forward. New charges were still being laid after his return to Canada and stood at 76. Yet another one was added as the trial began Monday.

Dejaeger pleaded guilty to eight of the accusations against him, but still faces 69 charges.

A total of 26 witnesses from Igloolik are expected to take the stand.

The trial has been scheduled for six weeks.