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Testimony finishes in trial of former priest charged with sex abuse in Arctic

Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger leaves an Iqaluit, Nunavut courtroom Jan. 20, 2011 after his first appearance for six child sexual abuse charges in Igloolik dating back to the 1970s. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Windeyer

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Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger leaves an Iqaluit, Nunavut courtroom Jan. 20, 2011 after his first appearance for six child sexual abuse charges in Igloolik dating back to the 1970s. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Windeyer

IQALUIT, Nunavut - Witnesses have finished their testimony in the trial of a former priest accused of sex assaults against dozens of Inuit children in a remote Arctic community.

The case of Eric Dejaeger is to wrap up the week of March 17, when lawyers are to argue final legal motions and make closing statements.

Dejaeger, who is 66, pleaded guilty to eight counts at the beginning of his trial in November.

He denied the remaining 68 sex assault charges against him when he took the stand in his own defence this week in an Iqaluit, Nunavut courtroom.

Dejaeger, born in Belgium, was posted to the tiny hamlet of Igloolik as an Oblate missionary between 1978 and 1982.

The allegations range from fondling to the sodomy of a little girl duct-taped to the priest's bed.

Court heard Dejaeger used food to lure some of the hungry children, and threatened many with hellfire or separation from their parents if they spoke of the abuse.

Some sex acts allegedly took place in a tent in a hunting camp. But most are alleged to have happened in the church — in his bedroom and in a common room during religion classes. Some witnesses testified that they were assaulted during confessions.

Others testified that Dejaeger forced them to watch him sexually assault his dog.

Dejaeger, sporting a white beard half way down his chest, adamantly denied the allegations. He told court he only fondled boys who came to his bedroom when they weren't allowed.

He said he squeezed their genitals while ushering them out the door, but didn't enjoy it.

"It just happened," he told court.

Justice Robert Kilpatrick didn't say when he might deliver a verdict. He has more than 1,500 pages of transcript to review from the trial.

Dejaeger was previously convicted of sex offences stemming from his time in Baker Lake, another Inuit community. He was sentenced to five years.

He was supposed to stand trial on some of the Igloolik charges in 1995, but returned to Belgium. He fulfilled several functions for the Oblates there until he was returned to Canada in 2011 when it was discovered he no longer held Belgian citizenship.

(APTN)

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