A man in Baker Lake, Nunavut, who admitted to violating an elderly  woman's corpse at the local cemetery in 2010 has been sentenced to just under two years in jail, in a case that is believed to be unprecedented in Canada.

Bobby Suwarak, 40, was handed a sentence of two years less one day by the Nunavut Court of Justice on Monday.

Suwarak pleaded guilty in February to one count of indecently interfering with human remains, after at least one grave was vandalized in summer 2010 at the cemetery in Baker Lake, a remote hamlet of about 1,700 in central Nunavut.

Residents were outraged after graves were desecrated last June. Forensic DNA testing and tips from the public led RCMP to arrest Suwarak in September.

Case 'in a category of its own'

In sentencing Suwarak, Nunavut Justice Sue Cooper said respect for the dead is a value that is shared by all cultures, and what Suwarak did violated social norms and taboos in the most outrageous manner.

Suwarak's case was "in a category of its own," Cooper said in court.

Outside court, Crown prosecutor John Solski said he has not seen a case like Suwarak's in Canada or abroad.

"I've practiced as a defence counsel for 15 years and as a Crown for 11 years, and I've never come across a situation like this, or never been in a position where I have been unable to find precedents somewhere," Solski told CBC News.

The Crown had asked for a three-year prison term, while Suwarak's lawyer wanted time served.

Cannot hear or speak

The defence cited the tough challenges already faced by Suwarak, who is deaf and cannot speak.


Residents in Baker Lake, a hamlet of about 1,700 in central Nunavut, were outraged after at least one grave was desecrated at the local cemetery in June 2010. ((CBC))

Cooper acknowledged that Suwarak has had a difficult life, as he has been deaf since the age of seven and has lived much of his life in isolation.

Suwarak is able to read and write only a few words, but with the help of Nunavut's justice system he has been able to learn a version of sign language, Cooper said.

A sign-language interpreter sat across from Suwarak in the courtroom during Monday's sentencing hearing.

Suwarak will have to serve three years of probation once he has completed his jail time. He is also prohibited from going within 50 metres of a graveyard.

Two relatives of the woman whose body was violated told CBC News in an interview in February that even the Crown's suggested sentence of three years was far too light.

Residents in Baker Lake have said the ground at the local cemetery is too rocky for coffins to be buried underground, so the coffins are usually covered in mounds of stones instead.

Since the grave desecration was reported, some residents have covered family members' graves with concrete.