POLITICS

Prosecutor tries to discredit former Arctic priest accused of sex abuse

01/22/2014 01:08 EST | Updated 03/24/2014 05:59 EDT
IQALUIT, Nunavut - A Crown prosecutor is trying to discredit the testimony of a former priest who denies sexually abusing dozens of Inuit children while posted in a remote Arctic community.

Eric Dejaeger took the witness stand for a second day Wednesday in a courtroom in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

He has pleaded guilty to eight counts, but denies the remaining 68 sex assaults he's accused of committing between 1978 and 1982 when he was an Oblate missionary in Igloolik.

The Crown repeatedly questioned Dejaeger's testimony that he never once listened to confessions in the remote hamlet because he didn't speak the Inuktitut language well enough.

Some of the alleged victims have testified the abuse took place during confession.

Dejaeger testified that people in the community went to another priest, Rev. Robert Lechat, to confess their sins.

Prosecutor Doug Curliss said he found it odd that Dejaeger didn't take confessions while Lechat was away. Curliss told court Lechat was gone a total of 55 weeks during the time Dejaeger worked in Igloolik.

The days were calculated from meticulous journals kept by Lechat, a custom for many priests at the time, said Curliss. He asked Dejaeger if he kept a journal as well.

He said he didn't.

Dejaeger, born in Belgium, testified that many priests at the time also chose to go work in Congo. But he decided he wanted to be one of the few to travel to northern Canada.

"It appealed to me. There weren't many Flemish in the North."

He said it was his job to "serve the people" and, while he didn't listen to confessions, he said he did perform mass, baptisms and weddings.

Earlier witnesses have testified that some of the alleged sex acts happened during religion classes and that Dejaeger told them they'd go to hell if they told others about the abuse.

Dejaeger testified that such classes for young children were the responsibility of others in the church. He said he never even taught children about the concept of heaven and hell.

Curliss said he is planning to show the court raw video footage taken by a Belgian documentary crew that interviewed Dejaeger when he was in Igloolik. Dejaeger's defence lawyer said he has objections to the video. Arguments on the matter are to be heard later.

After his posting in Igloolik, Dejaeger worked in Baker Lake, another community in Nunavut. He pleaded guilty to sex offences there and was sentenced to five years.

In 1995, he was supposed to be tried on some of the charges stemming from his time in Igloolik, but he returned to his Belgian homeland. Belgium sent him back to Canada in 2011 after it was discovered his citizenship there was no longer valid.

(APTN)