Anglican minister jailed eight months on sex charges

Anglican minister Iyetsiak Simigak has pleaded guilty to four sex charges involving activities with young girls. But fellow minister Benjamin Arreak says what Simigak did “isn’t really a crime” in Inuit culture.

By JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ She was young. She trusted this man. He was her school teacher and minister.

But when he touched her breasts and vagina through her clothes, she felt scared and powerless.

“He was a big guy in town. He was the minister, preaching up there that we should love little children!” she remembers.

But, finally, in 1993, she spoke to a social worker about what had happened, and to other girls she knew.

Social service workers alerted the Surêté du Québec. After an investigation by police, charges were laid December 1, 1993 against Iyetsiak Simigak, a teacher and Anglican deacon in Kangirsuk.

Simigak was charged with four separate counts one for sexual interference with a child under 14 years of age, and three counts of sexual exploitation by a person in a position of trust and authority.

In June, 1997, nearly four years later, Simigak, now aged 62, pleaded guilty to all charges. On September 25, Quebec Court Judge Paul Chevalier sentenced Simigak to eight months in jail.

Making victims proud of their womanhood?

In Rev. Benjamin Arreak’s opinion, the sentence does not reflect Inuit culture.

Arreak, an Anglican minister in Kuujjuaq and a longtime friend of Simigak’s, gave evidence on Simigak’s behalf at the sentencing hearing. Arreak claims that what Simigak did “isn’t really a crime” in Inuit culture.

“He wasn’t really purposefully trying to do sexual abuse,” Rev. Arreak said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News this week. “He just did it in the old Inuit traditional ways of treating young ladies, to make them proud of their womanhood. In Inuit culture, it isn’t really a crime.”

But one of Simigak’s victims disagrees.

“He invaded us”

“We’re not in the old Inuit ways anymore,” she says. “We didn’t feel proud of our womanhood. It brought us shame. What he did was he invaded us.”

The jail sentence, she says, can never really make up for the fear she suffered then and the anxiety she experienced during her long wait for the justice system to give its verdict.

Lack of remorse?

She says that if he had expressed remorse, she would feel that justice had been done.

“I had a dream, a confrontational dream,” she says. “He was saying, “No, I never did anything wrong.” I said, “God knows you did it. God saw it. If nothing happens to you here on earth, it will when you die.”

She remains convinced, however, that female victims of sexual abuse, exploitation or domestic violence must speak out.

“It always feels like you’re alone,” she says. “But we have to somehow try to make things better.”

During this most recent court appearance, lawyers heard a probation officer’s pre-sentence report that also noted Simigak’s “lack of remorse.”

Hid charges from the church

He did not tell his superiors in the Anglican church about his troubles because, the report says, he feared that “if they find out, he will be lowered to lesser tasks.”

But when Simigak was given the chance to testify at his sentencing hearing, he said that the probation officer had got it all wrong.

A daughter of the accused, as well as Rev. Benjamin Arreak, his long-time friend and Anglican colleague, also spoke on Simigak’s behalf at his sentencing hearing.

In the end, Judge Chevalier said he would decide to give Simigak the benefit of the doubt, but because of the “heinous” nature of his crimes against children, said Simigak would have to go South to serve an eight-month jail sentence.

Simigak will also be on probation for two years, during which he may not harrass or molest his victims and must undergo therapy.

Crown Prosecutor Nancy McKenna had asked for a six to nine month sentence for Simigak. She says she was satisfied with the court’s decision.

Simigak’s defense lawyer Stéphane Godri, however, isn’t so happy. “I was disapppointed,” Godri said.

Godri had proposed giving the preacher a conditional sentence, that is, a sentence that could be served in the community, not in jail.

This sentence would have placed restricting conditions on Simigak’s liberty, including a possible ban on his holding positions of authority.

After serving as little as six weeks of his prison time at the St. Jerome facility in Quebec, Simigak will be able to return to Kangirsuk on early parole.

Rev. Arreak says Simigak plans to use his sentence to study the scriptures and to meditate.

Simigak, he suggests, could be a more effective counselor after his experience in jail. He said that Simigak, who was ordained as a deacon three years ago, should be able to return to his clerical duties on his return.

Rev. Arreak said that the sentence didn’t take into account the healing process that Simigak has already undertaken. Simigak, he says, apologized to the community on local FM radio and also experienced a spiritual re-awakening four years ago.

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