Ex-priest Eric Dejaeger granted court-appointed lawyer for sex abuse appeal

Former Roman Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger has been granted a court-appointed lawyer in his appeal of 24 convictions for sex crimes against children in Igloolik, Nunavut.

Justice Neil Sharkey handed down his decision granting Dejaeger court-appointed counsel Thursday morning in Iqaluit's Nunavut Court of Appeal. The Crown argued against the decision, saying that Dejaeger did not convincingly establish that he was unable to pay a lawyer through other means. 

Dejaeger, who is currently serving 19 years in prison for the crimes committed in Igloolik between 1978 and 1982, was denied funding for his appeal by the Nunavut Legal Services Board in July 2016.

Sharkey's decision means Dejaeger's lawyer will be paid for by the Attorney General of Canada. 

It's not yet clear on what grounds Dejaeger is appealing his convictions, something that Sharkey referenced in his decision to grant court-appointed aid.

"Indeed," he wrote, "it has been said that an appellant who only has an arguable case is presumably more in need of counsel than an appellant who has a strong grounds of appeal."

Sharkey also accepted that Dejaeger was unable to pay a lawyer through other means.

"Mr. Dejaeger was an Oblate missionary and a Roman Catholic priest and is now serving a lengthy sentence," he wrote. "At the end of the day, I have no doubt Mr. Dejaeger is impecunious [has no money]."

Dejaegar is currently being held at Warkworth Institution, a medium-security federal prison near Campbellford, Ont. At the same time as he serves the sentence for his Igloolik convictions, he is serving a five-year sentence for charges relating to the sexual abuse of three children in Edmonton between 1975 and 1978. 

Dejaeger previously served a five-year sentence for sexually abusing children in Baker Lake, Nunavut, where he was posted between 1982 and 1989. After serving that sentence, in 1995 he was charged for the offences in Igloolik. He fled to Belgium, where he lived for 16 years despite an international warrant for his arrest.

He was returned to Canada in 2011 to face the Igloolik charges.

No date has yet been set for Dejaeger — and his new counsel's — next court appearance.