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Eric Dejaeger sentencing: Defence asks for 12 years, minus time served

Crown and defence lawyers in Iqaluit made their final arguments in the sentencing hearing of former Roman Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger, convicted of sex crimes against Inuit children in Igloolik, Nunavut, three decades ago. The two sides are far apart on their recommendations.

Ex-priest to address the court at his sentencing hearing Thursday

Ex-priest Eric Dejaeger arrives at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit on Jan. 21 for the final day of his sentencing hearing on 32 counts of child sexual abuse. 1:12

A lawyer for former priest Eric Dejaeger says the Crown's suggestion of a 25-year sentence for his sex crimes is "excessive" and "heavy-handed."

Dejaeger, 67, was convicted last year on 32 counts of child sexual abuse dating back to his time as a priest in Igloolik, Nunavut, between 1978 and 1982. 

In an Iqaluit courtroom Wednesday, Dejaeger's lawyer Malcolm Kempt argued for a sentence of 12 years, with a two for one credit for time spent in jail awaiting trial. That would leave Dejaeger with four years left to serve. 

Kempt said comparing Dejaeger's crimes to the horrific and depraved acts of worst-case sex offenders was unfair to his client. He argued far worse sex offenders have received lighter sentences than what the Crown is asking for.

He said Dejaeger has serious health issues and dying in custody is a "very real fear" for the 67-year-old.

Crown prosecutor Doug Curliss had asked for a sentence of 25 years for Dejaeger's crimes, minus the time the former Oblate priest has already served. 

Curliss said Dejaeger sexually assaulted children in "virtually every community he was in" and "discredited his calling...and victimized those he should have protected."

Curliss listed each of Dejaeger's 32 offences and asked for consecutive sentences, ranging from nine months to eight years, for each. 

While his proposed sentence added up to 79.5 years, Curliss told the court that by applying the principle of totality, "a combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh." He said a sentence of 25 years minus the time served would be appropriate.

Dejaeger has been in jail since January 2011, awaiting trial. His time served to date adds up to four years. With a credit of two days for every day served, that would mean Curliss is asking for another 17 years in jail.

In putting forward this recommendation, Curliss asked Justice Robert Kilpatrick to consider that Dejaeger has shown "no remorse," only denial.

This is the third day in a row that victims and their families have filled the Nunavut Court of Justice, at times both sad and angry.

On Monday and Tuesday, 18 of his victims described to the court how those events affected them physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Some said they have either lost or found faith in the process. One woman quoted the Bible, saying the former priest did not know God. Another said he won't baptize his daughter. He, like most of the others who made statements, said they turned instead to drugs and alcohol to "numb the pain and shame."

Crown prosecutor Barry Nordin says there will probably not be a final decision from Justice Robert Kilpatrick this week.

Nordin will have a chance to make a rebuttal to the defence's sentencing arguments tomorrow morning.

Then Dejaeger plans to address the court.

The CBC's Peter Worden reported from the courtroom on Twitter. Court will re-convene at 9:30 ET on Thursday morning.