Former MLA sentenced to probation, community service for historical sex assault

Former Baker Lake MLA and territorial cabinet minister David Simailak, 70, has been sentenced to three years’ probation and must perform 240 hours of community service in connection with a historical sexual assault.

Judge Chris Martin imposed the sentence virtually Monday morning, to an Iqaluit courtroom. The community service must be performed over the next 18 months.

“I accept that [Simailak] is truly remorseful,” Martin said. “[The crime] does not demand a jail sentence in this unique situation. It would be unduly harsh.”

In April, a Baker Lake jury found Simailak guilty of rape — which was the charge under the Criminal Code in 1973 — over an incident that happened late that year, Martin said.

Simailak, who was 21 then, was working as the manager of the newly built radio station in the community. The victim, a teenager at the time, was there on a school trip.

The two were the only ones left in the station in the early evening when Simailak began to touch her body before the two laid down on the floor, Martin said.

During the trial, Simailak said he thought the victim gave her consent.

In handing down his sentence, Martin said Simailak had been in the residential school system for seven years, experienced trauma and had difficulty returning to his life in Baker Lake afterward, losing his connection with family.

Martin said Simailak spent the past 50 years being a good citizen by serving as an MLA for four years, mayor for two years, volunteering and counselling people.

After police charged him in 2019, the Anglican Church suspended Simailak as an ordained deacon, he’s lost job opportunities and has had suicidal thoughts, Martin said.

After the jury convicted Simailak, the church stripped him of all other volunteer duties he had been doing for the past three decades and he lost his position as chairperson of the Baker Lake District Education Authority, Martin said.

The victim experienced major emotional and psychological trauma and only began to realize the impact the rape had on her life when she was 25, Martin said.

Sometimes, she would call Simailak to confront him.

“She felt shame, grief, depression, anxiety and embarrassment,” the judge said.

“Over a long time, she gained the wherewithal to report it to the RCMP and take, as she said, the hardest trip back to Baker Lake for the trial almost 50 years after she left. She no longer feels the assault defines her future.”

Defense lawyer Jeff Langevin said Simailak’s actions were a result of the federal government removing Simailak from his home as a boy, bringing him to residential school, and then placing him back in his home community.

The Crown had sought a three-year jail term for Simailak.

“When he returned to Baker Lake and behaved the way he did, in a criminal manner, I wonder how — I just, it’s just been gnawing at me — I wonder how morally blameworthy he is in those circumstances,” Langevin said.

“I think Mr. Simailak was fundamentally disadvantaged by the situation the Crown put him in, and now … here we are all these years later, saying … ‘You behaved in a criminal manner.’”

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News