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Priest returning to Inuit community to face sex charges Add to ...

For the tiny Northern community of Igloolik, it's been a very long wait for justice.

Disgraced Roman Catholic priest Erik Dejaeger is expected to arrive in Iqaluit on Thursday from Montreal to face six 30-year-old charges of sexual misconduct - another chapter in the church's agonizing saga of child abuse.

Father Dejaeger, 63, was flown back to Canada on Wednesday from Belgium, where he had been living illegally for 15 years.

In April, 1990, Father Dejaeger pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexual and indecent assault in Baker Lake, NWT, (now part of Nunavut), and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Charges of buggery and sexual interference with Inuit children, laid in 1995 after his release, stem from his tenure as an Oblate priest in Igloolik, about 850 kilometres northwest of Iqaluit, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Father Dejaeger failed to appear at a June, 1995, court hearing, and fled to his native Belgium. There, despite an Interpol warrant for his arrest, he worked for the Catholic Church, living in a villa with a group of Oblates in Blanden, east of Brussels.

Nunavut RCMP Sergeant Jimmy Akavak said Father Dejaeger will be held in custody pending a court hearing to determine bail. The Nunavut Court of Justice will also have to rule on charges of failing to appear in 1995, and decide on a venue for a possible trial.

"Bringing him back is a good start," Igloolik Mayor Lucasi Ivvalu said. "… But why did this take so long? Did the Canadian government even take this seriously? This should not have been allowed to happen."

According to church abuse activist Lieve Halsberghe, Father Dejaeger came to the attention of Belgian police in 2000 after a complaint was filed by a parishioner. For four years, former Belgian magistrate Godelieve Halsberghe, Lieve Halsberghe's aunt, "pleaded with Erik and his church superiors to return to Canada and provide justice to his Inuit victims. They refused."

In May, Belgian journalist Douglas De Coninck published a series of articles about the abuse scandal in the Belgian Catholic Church. Citing the Interpol warrant of 1998, Mr. De Coninck claimed "the Flemish fathers deliberately hid their pedophile brother from Interpol and misled the inquiry headed by Godelieve Halsberghe. The Oblates first denied to know anything about the reasons of Father Erik's sudden return from Canada and later acknowledged that they had been informed in detail about the conviction and the reasons for the conviction."

Even then, however, said Lieve Halsberghe, "nobody moved."

Later, Lieve Halsberghe tracked down Sergeant Tom Power, the RCMP officer who conducted the investigation in Igloolik in 1995. Now posted to St John's, Sgt. Power alerted Interpol and a new warrant for Father Dejaeger was issued.

But no action was taken until another Belgian journalist, Saskia Van Nieuwenhove, disclosed last summer that Father Dejaeger had lied about his nationality - he'd been a Canadian citizen since 1977 - and had therefore been living illegally in Belgium since 1995. He was arrested two weeks ago, and detained until Wednesday in Bruges.

His deportation, therefore, was for breaking Belgian immigration laws, not the abuse charges.

"That's what absolutely disappointing about all of this," said retired social worker Michel Bertrand, who helped treat Father Dejaeger's Baker Lake victims two decades ago. Despite countless appeals and submissions, "Canada never asked for his extradition."









 

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