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Grave desecrator sentenced
Baker Lake man gets two years less a day in jail and three years probation

Emily Ridlington
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BAKER LAKE/IQALUIT - The man who desecrated a grave and indecently interfered with human remains in his home community of Baker Lake has been sentenced to two years less a day in jail.

NNSL photo/graphic

Bobby Suwarak of Baker Lake was sentenced to two years less a day in jail plus three years probation for indecently interfering with human remains last June. Suwarak was sentenced at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit on March 21. - Emily Ridlington/NNSL photo

"Mr. Suwarak's conduct violated social norms and taboos in the most outrageous manner," said Justice Sue Cooper at the sentencing at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit on March 21.

Suwarak, 40, who is deaf and mute, pleaded guilty in January to the offences which took place last June. He has been in custody since Sept. 12, 2010.

As Cooper delivered her verdict, Suwarak sat solemnly, focusing on his translator.

"This case is both shocking and tragic," said Cooper.

He also faces three years of probation.

Cooper spoke repeatedly about the lack of precedent for sentencing for crimes of this nature.

During the trial, Crown prosecutor John Solski forwarded what similar cases he could find, checking the records in Canada, Britain and Australia.

In her verdict, Cooper highlighted one case from the Yukon in 1964 where the accused was sentenced to two years in jail after having sex with a corpse while intoxicated.

"It's a very exceptional type of situation and theses were the only cases we could find," Solski said

Defence lawyer Mandy Sammurtok during the trial had found cases where those accused had either disposed of victims' bodies after having committed another crime such as murder or had not carried out proper disposal of bodies.

Sammurtok had asked for a sentence of time served while Solski had wanted three years. The maximum sentence for such an offence is five years.

Solski said he thought the act merited a sentence to be served in a federal penitentiary.

Cooper said the examples provided were not particularly relevant as this event was planned and the accused admitted to having sexual intercourse with the corpse for about 10 minutes.

"It is about respect for and maintaining dignity and values for those who have passed on," she said, stating that is a belief shared by all cultures.

At Suwarak's sentencing hearing at the end of February, family members of the deceased and Baker Lake Mayor David Aksawnee had been present. They had all paid their own way to come to the territorial capital.

They were not present at the sentencing. Solski said they could have appeared by video conferencing but they failed to contact his office.

Cooper also spoke about the impact of the crime on the family and community.

The identity of the perpetrator went unknown for three months.

"During this time, community members were going about their lives knowing someone capable of great depravity was amongst them," she said.

At the request of the Crown, Cooper ordered specific photos of the deceased included in the court file be sealed. Other photos in the file can be viewed but not copied.

"This would cause further and unnecessary suffering for the family," Cooper said.

In her sentence, Cooper did acknowledge Suwarak's situation.

"There can be no doubt Mr. Suwarak's life is a lonely one," she said.

One ironic or positive thing to come out of Suwarak's run-ins with the law, she said, is the fact that as he has gone through the courts, he has picked up some sign language training.

Once released from custody, Suwarak will have to follow a number of conditions including keeping the peace and being of good behaviour, having to appear before the court when required, notifying authorities of any change in name, address or employment, and reporting to the probation office within seven days once released from jail.

In addition during his first year of probation, he will have to report to a probation officer at least twice a month and for the remaining two years, his residence has to be approved by his probation officer, he must attend counselling and cannot go within 50 metres of a graveyard.

Throughout the ordeal, family members and residents of Baker Lake have said they do not want Suwarak returning to the community once is he is released. Solski said it will be up to the hamlet and the police to deal with that when it occurs.

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