Man charged in gruesome cemetery case
Police use DNA evidence in investigation
(updated 9:00 a.m., Sept. 20)
A Baker Lake man faces two counts of indecently interfering with human remains in connection with events in the community’s cemetery alleged to have occurred this past June 5 and June 6.
Bobby Suwarak, 40, was arrested Sept. 13 and appeared in court in Baker Lake on Sept. 15.
Suwarak will remain in custody until his next court appearance on Nov. 2.
“If you have information on this investigation and have not yet spoken to the RCMP in Baker Lake, please contact the local detachment and or remain totally anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1(800) 222-8477 (TIPS),” said a Sept. 17 RCMP update on the case.
If convicted, Suwarak faces a maximum prison term of five years.
Two graves in the cemetery were dug up during two successive nights last June.
DNA samples taken from one of the bodies that had been tampered with had been sent to a crime lab for analysis. The results allowed police to move forward on making an arrest in the case, RCMP said.
David Aksawnee, the mayor of Baker Lake, told Canadian Press that the hamlet council held meetings to discuss the crimes and that elders went on the air to tell people such activity has no place in traditional Inuit culture.
“This is not our culture. This is what the elders are saying,” Aksawnee told CP.
In 2008 Suwarak, who is deaf, saw the Crown drop charges against him in a stay of proceedings on a sexual assault charge that was laid in 2004.
When Suwarak was charged with sexual assault and break and entering in March of that year, his case become a problem for the Nunavut Court of Justice because he appeared to have no known language with which court officials could communicate with him.
Lawyer Tom Kavanaugh applied to have the charges dropped, saying Suwarak wasn’t able to get a fair trial under the Charter of Rights, on the grounds that his client could communicate only with a few people using signs and charades.
Kavanaugh also said a man acting as Suwarak’s interpreter didn’t understand the legal process and hadn’t been properly trained.
The Crown responded by providing a training program for Suwarak and his interpreter.
Justice Earl Johnson of the Nunavut Court of Justice gave the court administration until September 2006 to complete the training program.
But in the end, the charges were stayed.
Even before that decision, Suwarak received attention for his deafness.
In April of 2000, Jack Anawak, then Nunavut’s justice minister, spoke in the Nunavut legislature about “the accomplishments of Bobby Suwarak” while at the Baffin Correctional Centre, noting Suwarak received the Literary Council’s student of the year award at an Nunavut Arctic College ceremony.
Later, in 2007 and 2008, Jamie MacDougall, who runs the Canadian Deafness Research and Training Institute and teaches at Montreal’s McGill University, went on to document and describe Inuit Sign Language, based on his contact with Suwarak and other deaf Nunavummiut, using grants from the Nunavut government’s culture, language, elders and culture department.