Editor’s note: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.
The past caught up with Baker Lake’s David Simailak as a historical sexual assault case against the former Baker Lake mayor and government minister reached a conclusion in Iqaluit court last month.
In April, a jury in Baker Lake convicted Simailak of one count of rape, as the offence was termed at the time.
Simailak, 70, previously had no criminal record.
On Nov. 7, a judge imposed a suspended sentence with conditions that will have to be followed during three years of probation, including 250 hours of community work. Simailak was also required to provide a sample of his DNA to the local RCMP detachment.
“This decision deals with the thorny issue of what is a fit and appropriate sentence for this historical rape,” stated judge Chris Martin in an explanation of the case.
Four years ago, a woman, whose identity has been protected from publication, made a complaint to the police about Simailak assaulting her in 1973, when Simailak was 21 and the woman was 14. She said it happened on the floor of the radio station in Baker Lake.
In 1973, rape was defined by the court as a male having sexual intercourse with a female who is not his wife and is without her consent. The age at which a woman could legally consent to sexual intercourse at the time was 14 years old.
Since then, except for certain unique circumstances, the age of consent has increased to 16 years old. Simailak was tried according to the 1973 definition of rape, including the age of consent, but otherwise, all modern aspects of a sexual assault trial were in effect.
“Both were residents of Baker Lake,” stated Martin. “The victim moved there with her parents when her father, an Anglican minister, accepted a posting to Baker Lake. Mr. Simailak was a lifelong resident of Baker Lake. Both the victim and Mr. Simailak are Inuit. They did not know each other.”
As part of a school program, the victim was at the local radio station to broadcast a show for the community. Simailak was the manager of the station, and after the show, only the two remained in the building.
“Mr. Simailak testified he went to her after the station closed and sex ‘just happened,’ stated Martin. “It started by him touching her, but not in the ‘privates.’ They then laid on the floor side-by-side, but with her more on her back. She did not resist, oppose or push back. They had a short kiss. He said he pulled out his penis and penetrated her. He does not remember how her pants came off because it was ‘50 years ago.’ He said they might have held each other. He did not ask her if she wanted to have sex, kiss or touch. In fact, nothing was said. He testified that he assumed from the way it happened – she did not resist – she was consenting. Afterward, they just both got up and left. Finally, as the victim clearly testified, she did not consent.”
Consequences of actions
Shortly thereafter, the victim told her mother, and her father found out as well. Independently, Simailak confessed the act to his wife, who quickly called a meeting of the victim’s parents, the victim and a local minister. Simailak’s wife said the meeting took place at their home the next day, which lasted about an hour. The victim’s father was upset and forbade his daughter from going to the radio station again. The victim has no memory of this meeting.
“Mr. Simailak has had suicidal ideation related to the stress and effect of the charge,” stated Martin about the impact to the former mayor, who for decades was seen as an icon of success.
“He has been stripped of community positions and suffered financially. Particularly biting to him was his suspension as an ordained deacon of the Anglican Church in 2019. On conviction, he was banned from all other volunteer church roles he had been performing for over 30 years. He has lost corporate board and business roles, and other volunteer roles. For example, for seven years until his conviction, he served as chair of the Baker Lake District Education Authority. The reputational impact upon him, in the hamlet and territory, has been significant. He is no longer seen as a community pillar.”
Martin noted some mitigating circumstances in this case.
“Notably, Mr. Simailak was a youthful first offender,” stated Martin. “While not an excuse in any way, it is clear that his view respecting consent was that of a 1970s inexperienced, immature young man – a ‘spoiled brat,’ as described by his wife. I accept his testimony that he did not think he was committing a criminal act, albeit he took no steps to confirm consent.”
The victim suffered emotional and psychological trauma following the unlawful encounter.
“She had difficulty grasping the impact until she was 25 years of age and she sought counselling,” stated Martin. “She felt shame, grief, depression, anxiety and embarrassment. Over the years, in angry moments, she even called Mr. Simailak or his wife to confront them. Over a long time, she gained the wherewithal to report it to the RCMP and take ‘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.”
Martin said this case involves a crime that no sentence can heal.