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The fact that Rev. Eric Dejaeger sits in an Arctic jail awaiting trial on a score of sex charges involving Inuit children has as much to do with luck, dogged journalism, modern communications and two determined women on opposite sides of the Atlantic as it does with international law enforcement.

A retired nurse and homemaker from Ottawa was motivated by seeing sex scandals tearing her church apart. A Belgian was outraged that an accused pedophile could live and work in her country unchallenged.

Together, in front of their computers, they supplied the push and sometimes the information that drove authorities to bring the matter to a Canadian court.

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"Thanks to the Internet, the day is going to come when these fellows have no place to hide," Sylvia McEachern said from her home in Ottawa.

Father Dejaeger, now 64, came to Canada from Belgium in the early 1970s and took out citizenship in 1977. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1978. His first posting took him to the remote northern community of Igloolik.

The Oblate missionary there at the time was Rev. Robert Lechat, an Inuktitut-speaking veteran of the North.

One woman remembers spending a lot of time as a child at Father Lechat's home with other youngsters, drawing and reading Bible stories.

"Out of nowhere, Eric came and [Father Lechat]introduced him to the community," she recalled.

The new priest from the south seemed exotic. "He had weird dark glasses. Lots of hair. He smelled like something rotting."

Father Dejaeger - who never learned Inuktitut - also welcomed children into the church.

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"He was nice at first, but then things started getting weird. I didn't like being too close to him. He was different than Father Lechat. He would use food to bring us there because he knew that we had hardly any food in our house."

Others saw nothing wrong.

Lucasi Ivvalu, now Igloolik's mayor, remembers seeing Father Dejaeger walking his dog around town. "We thought he was someone who was a friend."

Father Lechat, who was out of town on church business a lot, said he had no idea anything was amiss until he later heard about Father Dejaeger's stint in Baker Lake, Nunavut, between 1982 and 1989. Eight charges of sexual assault and one of indecent assault were laid stemming from that time. The victims were boys and girls nine through 18 years old.

Father Dejaeger pleaded guilty in 1990 and was released from jail in September of 1991.

By then RCMP were looking into his time in Igloolik. In June of 1995, police charged the priest with three new counts of indecent assault and another three of buggery - a crime no longer in the Criminal Code.

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He didn't show up for his court date.

"It was determined later that Dejaeger had fled to Belgium," said Sergeant Jimmy Akavak of Iqaluit RCMP.











Canada asked Belgium to send Father Dejaeger back, said Belgian journalist Saskia van Nieuwenhove, who has reported on the case.

"The Canadians told Brussels that he had Canadian nationality and had to [renounce]his Belgian nationality," Ms. van Nieuwenhove said. "That fact exists in his file. The Canadian embassy told Belgium he's a Canadian."

But Belgium failed to act. In 1998, Interpol issued an arrest warrant. The RCMP also issued a new warrant in 2002. Still, no one troubled the priest, who was living quietly in an Oblate community.

Last May, a Belgian newspaper published a story about the situation. Lieve Halsberghe, a Belgian who works with the international support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, read it.

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"There was an Interpol warrant out for his arrest that was printed in the newspaper here and nobody did anything about it," she said.

A relative of Ms. Halsberghe had been the head of an investigative commission on sex abuse by priests and gave her information on the priest.

"My aunt told me these stories and I can't stand hypocrites and injustice," she said.

Ms. Halsberghe went on the Internet and found Ms. McEachern.

In the early 1990s, Ms. McEachern - a regular churchgoer - had been writing for a publication by lay Catholics. She heard whispers about clerical sexual abuse but admitted, "I didn't want to go there."

When a local priest faced charges, she felt she could no longer ignore the issue and went to the trial. When a scandal surrounding allegations of a pedophile ring in Cornwall, Ont., broke, she blogged about it and collected information on priests who had abused children, eventually creating an online database on priest sex abuse.

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"People really should be able to look," Ms. McEachern said. "If there's somebody who's been charged, sued or accused, at least [complainants]can have the comfort of a source of information on that."

That database included two stories by The Canadian Press on Father Dejaeger's Baker Lake convictions. In April of 2010, Ms. Halsberghe found those stories and began exchanging information with Ms. McEachern.

By last June, Ms. McEachern confirmed that the Canadian warrant was still active.

On June 25, 2010, Interpol issued a fresh warrant. But the Belgian government still considered Mr. Dejaeger a citizen, and that country has a 10-year statute of limitations. Belgium wouldn't extradite a citizen for crimes for which he couldn't be convicted in its courts.







Ms. Halsberghe set up a meeting with a church official on Sept. 10, a Friday.

"I said, 'If you want to change your church, you're going to have to turn in that criminal,'" she said.

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Father Dejaeger turned himself in the next day. However, Belgian police had no reason to hold him or any justification to extradite him.

At about that time, Ms. van Nieuwenhove discovered that Belgian law in 1977 didn't recognize dual citizenship. Someone who became Canadian was no longer Belgian. Ms. Van Nieuwenhove took the discovery to Belgium's justice ministry.

Eventually, a Belgian police officer realized that Father Dejaeger had overstayed the three-year limit for Canadians without a visa. He was arrested on Jan. 3 and returned to Canada on Jan. 19.

Now, he sits in an Iqaluit jail charged with 28 offences alleged to have occurred between 1978 and 1982 in Igloolik. He is facing one count of failing to appear, two of common assault, one of using violence to prevent reporting a suspicious activity and 24 sexual offences, including one count of bestiality.

Several attempts to contact Father Dejaeger's lawyer have been unsuccessful.









The Canadian Press

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