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Sex abuse trial for Arctic priest winds down in Iqaluit

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IQALUIT, Nunavut - The trial of a former Roman Catholic priest charged with 68 counts of sex abuse against Inuit children more than 30 years ago is wrapping up in Nunavut after weeks of lurid testimony and high emotion.

Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss summed up his case against Eric Dejaeger on Tuesday, the day after defence lawyer Malcolm Kempt did his best to shroud it in doubt.

"These people are victims, just not of Eric Dejaeger," Kempt told Nunavut Justice Robert Kilpatrick.

During the trial, witness after witness told court that Dejaeger used his position as an Oblate missionary to lure and trap them into sex, threatening them with hellfire or separation from their families if they told.

He used the promise of food on some, court heard. On others, he used force. Court was told assaults took place in Dejaeger's bedroom, the mission's confessional and in his lap while other children played or coloured a few metres away.

Several stories told of bestiality involving Dejaeger's dog. One woman said she was duct-taped to Dejaeger's bed as a little girl and raped.

It was common to hear witnesses howling and weeping outside court after their testimony.

Kempt pointed out many of the stories didn't match. Some memories, such as those of Dejaeger in a long black robe, couldn't have been true, he said.

"That outfit doesn't exist outside of a Hollywood film."

Kempt also argued that a flight that brought a number of complainants to Iqaluit from Igloolik to watch Dejaeger make his first court appearance gave them a chance to compare stories and hone their testimony.

He said there's a fine line between fellow victims "trying to help each other remember" and "collaboration and collusion."

He also noted that memories of Dejaeger's time in Igloolik, from 1978 to 1982, are filtered for many of the witnesses through years of other violence and substance abuse.

"Growing up in Igloolik in 1978 wasn't a nice place to be," said Kempt, who suggested that Dejaeger is being made a scapegoat for the difficult pasts of many witnesses.

Curliss argued that enough common themes emerged from the testimony that the stories from the victims hold together.

"It's a cluster that meets similar-fact standards," he said. "(Dejaeger's) broken every vow he's ever taken."

Curliss said the accusations are similar to those Dejaeger pleaded guilty to in Baker Lake, Nunavut, where he was sent after leaving Igloolik. Dejaeger eventually served a five-year sentence on those charges.

Curliss also argued that the flight that brought alleged victims from Igloolik to Iqaluit had nothing to do with so many additional charges being laid after Dejaeger was initially arraigned.

Dejaeger had fled to Belgium, Curliss reminded the judge. Victims may have felt there was no point making complaints — especially since so many of them had been disbelieved or even punished for making accusations against a priest.

Dejaeger was originally to face trial on the Igloolik charges in 1995, but instead left Canada for his Belgian homeland. He was eventually returned when officials realized he was living in the country illegally.

At the start of the current trial, Dejaeger pleaded guilt to eight counts of sexual assault.

Kilpatrick is expected to reserve his decision.


Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the trial had wrapped up.

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