Former Nunavut priest convicted of sex crimes against children out on statutory release

Former priest Eric Dejaeger, who in 2015 was convicted on 24 counts of sex crimes against Inuit youth from his time as a parish priest in Igloolik, Nunavut between 1978 and 1982, is out of prison.

He was sentenced to 19 years in prison, but with his four years spent in pre-trial custody, that number was scaled back to nine years.

In a written decision, the Parole Board of Canada approved the release on May 19.

There are a series of conditions tied to his release: He is not allowed contact with children, or his previous victims, and must return to a halfway house every evening. The location of the halfway house is redacted in the parole documents.

Dejaeger had sought to live under the supervision of his former Roman Catholic religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

He was defrocked as a priest in 2011 after the Igloolik charges came to light.

Dejeager was convicted in 1989 of 10 counts of sexual assault against Inuit youth in Baker Lake, Nunavut. He was released from jail in 1991 and fled to Belgium after the Igloolik charges were filed in 1995.

Following that flight from the law, Dejaeger was deported from Belgium in 2011. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant and it was also discovered that he was in Belgium illegally.

The parole board decided against letting the religious order be responsible for him.

Read the Parole Board of Canada report here: 

Download (PDF, 521KB)

In its decision, the board wrote, “Following completion of your first federal sentence, however, as outlined above, you violated bail conditions after being charged for the index offences and spent over 15 years in Belgium as a fugitive from justice before being deported back to Canada.”

The parole board explains its rationale for turning down the request to live with the Oblates in the eight-page decision.

“In the absence of a residency condition, you plan to live with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in [redacted by the parole board] at their residence. Your contact at the Oblates advised CSC that the residence occasionally accommodates guests who bring their children and stay overnight and your contact is not prepared to stop allowing children to stay there if you lived there.

“There is also a large park across the street from the residence, but your section 161 order prohibits you from attending parks.”

In the decision, the parole board states some of Dejaeger’s arguments for living with the Oblates and goes on to dismiss them.

Dejaeger stated he would be less likely to catch COVID-19 if he stayed with the religious order, an argument the Parole Board dismissed.

Dejaeger’s personal safety was also at the front of his mind, but the board didn’t agree with his assessment, writing, “You also asserted that you would be unsafe at a Community Release Facility (CRF) because people could search on the internet and find out that you are a member of the Oblates who was previously involved in residential schools. Such a conclusion is highly speculative and does not explain how living with the Oblates would reduce your public identification with them.

“Your release plan, absent a residency condition, is not viable and does not mitigate your undue risk.”

The decision outlines some of what Dejaeger has been doing behind bars. He has been in a medium-security facility, where he completed three programs designed to lower his risk of reoffending.

The Parole Board states in their decision, “Based on an analysis of each of your personal targets, it was determined that your current overall ability and commitment to use the skills required to manage your various risk factors improved from “needs some improvement” to “moderate.”

He also worked as a cleaner at the prison.

A request for comment from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate was not immediately returned prior to publication.

One day after the publication of this story, the Oblates sent a written statement to APTN News.

On behalf of the religious order, Father Ken Thorson wrote, “The Oblates of Mary Immaculate condemn the horrific acts of sexual abuse committed by Eric DeJaeger. Clergy sexual abuse is a tragedy, and we are deeply sorry to any survivors who have been harmed by Eric or any other Oblate or Catholic priests or religious,” Thorson wrote.

Thorson went on to specifically address Dejaeger’s many Inuit victims.

“We want to express our deepest apologies to DeJaeger’s victims and their families. As survivors, family members, and their communities navigate a difficult journey seeking closure and healing, our order is committed to providing support to the Indigenous and Inuit communities,” he wrote. “We have been in touch directly with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) regarding Eric Dejeager’s release.”

The Oblates haven’t quite cut ties with the former priest.

After their plan to let Dejaeger live at an Oblate residence was turned down by the Parole Board of Canada, they still may end up hosting him at a later date.

“After completing a stay in a halfway house, it is possible that DeJaeger may reside in an Oblate community where we can ensure he follows his release plan, under close supervision and with a full restriction of any activity that could bring him into contact with minors,” said Thorson. “We recognize it is our responsibility to provide for Dejeager’s needs in a manner that reduces the chance of recidivism.

“Any such arrangement would require Parole Board of Canada approval, and the confidence of the particular Oblate community and Oblate leadership, that we could fulfill the requirements of the PBC, and provide appropriate monitoring as outlined in our safeguarding policy.”

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