YORKTON – A Crown prosecutor has applied for a discretionary publication ban and to seal court records in the upcoming bail hearing of Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance.
The sisters 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. He was sentenced to only four years in prison and the sisters were sentenced to life in prison. Court documents of the 1994 trial obtained by SASKTODAY.ca reveal that the youth testified, “Odelia and Nerissa were in the opposite room when I stabbed him. They were crying.” Neither of the sisters pleaded guilty to the murder and continue to maintain their innocence.
Kim Beaudin, National Vice-Chief of Congress of Aboriginal Peoples slammed the Saskatchewan Crown for trying to ban the details of the Nov. 24 and 25 bail hearing in Yorkton Court of Queen's Bench and seal the records.
“In 1993 Canada’s justice system wrongfully convicted Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance of murder. Two life sentences for a crime another person repeatedly confessed to. Racism, residential schools, a biased justice system and police all contributed to this monumental failure.
Beaudin said the application to seal the court records was "essentially hiding the justice systems’ mishandling of their cases."
Earlier this year, federal Justice Minister David Lametti announced they are reviewing the 1994 murder convictions of sisters Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance in Dolff's death saying, “It has been determined there may be a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in this matter.”
Likewise, Nicole Porter from N. A. Porter and Associates who has been working on the sisters' case condemned the Crown's application.
“It's bad enough these Indigenous women have been locked away in prison for 30 years, but now they have lost their right to speak to the media (following Odelia's latest parole extension),” Porter told SASKTODAY.ca in an email Sunday.
“Further troubling are these new applications for a discretionary publication ban and to seal court records,” added Porter. “What are they trying to hide? Certain members of the Saskatchewan government have made it very clear they would rather see these women locked up indefinitely than ever be released. We are seeking a remedy for these Indigenous women, yet at every corner we face resistance from the very government that falsely put them away in the first place.”
In October the Parole Board extended Odelia Quewezance’s day parole with conditions, including that she have limited contact with the media at the request of the victim’s family.
APTN is fighting the publication ban that would prevent media from reporting on evidence at the hearing scheduled for Nov. 24 and 25. The application was filed last week in Yorkton Court of King's Bench.
Retired Justices Harry LaForme and Juanita Westmoreland-Traore – who were appointed by federal Justice Minister David Lametti in 2021 to head the creation of an independent Criminal Case Review Commission to review wrongful convictions - say the conviction of Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance has signs of a miscarriage of justice.
Advocate for the wrongfully convicted, the late David Milgaard, had called on Saskatchewan's Justice Minister to exonerate Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance. He also called on Lametti's office to intervene.
In May 2021, Senator Kim Pate said there needed to be an immediate review of the convictions of Nerissa and Odelia Quewezance.
N. A. Porter and Associates recently sent 1,002 pages containing the almost 50,000 signatures of support obtained in a petition to members of the Saskatchewan government.
The Premier of Saskatchewan replied to Nicole Porter of N.A. Porter and Associates indicating it would not be appropriate to comment on decisions made by the courts, Porter told SASKTODAY.ca on Tuesday. Her email was forwarded to Bronwyn Eyre, Minister of Justice and Attorney General for information and consideration.
On Nov. 14 the Saskatchewan Attorney General’s office also responded to Porter acknowledging their petition containing about 50,000 signatures of support for the sisters. “With respect, petitions do not decide whether verdicts should or should not be overturned,” stated Assistant Deputy Attorney General Anthony Gerein.
Innocence Canada lawyer James Lockyer had asked the Saskatchewan government to reduce the sisters’ three-decades old second-degree murder convictions to manslaughter.
“I have asked Saskatchewan Justice to agree to quashing Odelia and Nerissa’s convictions from second degree murder and substituting manslaughter convictions in their stead so they can both be released forthwith from prison without any state restraints,” Lockyer previously told SASKTODAY.ca.
A spokesperson from Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice and Attorney General wouldn’t confirm if they have received Lockyer’s proposal.
— Click for more from Crime, Cops and Court.