OTTAWA – An Indigenous advocacy group welcomes Federal Justice Minister David Lametti’s proposed Criminal Code amendments to create an independent commission to review wrongful convictions.
The new commission is expected to replace the current ministerial review process and will be called David and Joyce Milgaard’s Law. The commission will also help Indigenous, Black, and marginalized people who are over represented in the criminal justice system.
“Indigenous Peoples are vastly over represented in the justice system already,” said Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Elmer St. Pierre. “Many of those convicted have little knowledge of the Canadian justice system and can be pressured into false confessions.”
CAP National Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin said the move to create an independent review commission could represent a seismic shift in the justice landscape for Indigenous people who have always struggled under a one-way colonial system.
“Odelia and Nerissa [Quewezance] could have used an independent commission like this 30 years ago,” said Beaudin.
The sisters have maintained their innocence since they were convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of Kamsack-area farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff. The sisters' cousin – who was a youth at the time - has repeatedly admitted that he is the one who killed Dolff and not the sisters. He was sentenced to only four years in prison and the sisters were sentenced to life in prison.
In June 2022, the federal government announced they are reviewing the sisters’ convictions. A letter written on behalf of federal Justice Minister David Lametti had been sent to the sisters’ lawyer James Lockyer of Innocence Canada.
“It has been determined there may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this matter,” stated the letter.
David and Joyce Milgaard's Law is a critical step forward in establishing an independent review process to examine whether a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, said Lametti.
“An independent commission will help make miscarriage of justice reviews more efficient and make the process truly available to all who want to access it."
When David Milgaard got out of prison he became an outspoken advocate for the wrongfully convicted. In June 2021, David Milgaard told SASKTODAY.ca that he wanted to retire from his advocacy work in a year. Right until his death in May 2022, he fought to have the Quewezance sisters exonerated. The sisters' case was the last one he was working on.
David Milgaard was the victim of one of Canada's most notorious miscarriages of justice. In 1969 he was arrested when he was only 16. In 1970, at the age of 17, he was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering Saskatoon nurse Gail Miller and sent to Canada’s toughest prisons for life.
He spent almost 23 years in prison for the rape and murder of Saskatoon nursing assistant Gail Miller before DNA evidence exonerated him. Milgaard insisted that the Crown and police knew he was innocent but buried the truth to save themselves, their careers and their reputations.
The Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission would consist of five to nine commissioners and have the power to order a new trial or send the case back to an appeal court.
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