A pair of Indigenous sisters who have been separated for nearly two decades for a crime they are adamant they did not commit gathered in tears Thursday in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, to embrace on the grounds of the Court of the Bench of the King.
In 1994, Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted of second degree murder in the death of Anthony Dolff, a farmer from Kamsack, Saskatchewan.
They last saw each other almost 18 years ago at the funeral of their late father.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Odelia, 51, said Thursday. “It’s kind of sad that it took that to be together, to see each other…they broke us up.”
Later, as Odelia was speaking outside the courthouse, she began to cry.
“I haven’t seen her in 18 years, how can they do that?” she says.
“We’re not violent…we have big hearts.”
The sisters are from Keeseekoose First Nation, located about 230 kilometers northeast of Regina. They argue they were wrongfully imprisoned for Dolff’s death for nearly 30 years, including time spent in custody before the convictions.
Thursday’s reunion took place outside the courthouse where they were first sentenced.
The Quewezance sisters are seeking parole pending a lengthy federal review to determine if their case was a miscarriage of justice.
While the interim judicial review hearing — to determine whether the sisters would have certain freedoms while the federal review was underway — was scheduled for Thursday and Friday, it was replaced by a hearing to discuss whether new details of the hearing should be subject to a publication ban.
The defence, CBC and APTN oppose the publication ban.
“I hope this is a start for everyone to start reaching out to us natives, especially native women in prison. Many of my sisters are still suffering… still a lot of injustice,” he said. said Nerissa, 48, during a break from publishing. hearing ban.
She said seeing her sister was “surreal” and moving. The two were allowed to have a meal together and as a family during lunch.
Argument in court
The sisters sat together in court. Nerissa was shackled before Judge Donald Layh granted a defense request to remove the shackles while she was in the courtroom.
In the presence of Dolff’s family, Crown prosecutor Kelly Kaip argued that a publication ban at a bail hearing was not unusual and would maintain a fair trial in the future if there is had one as a result of the federal review.
A federal review could result in an appeal trial or a completely new trial, or by referring a question of law to the provincial Court of Appeal.
Kaip indirectly responded to criticism made by advocates, saying the ban would not “muzzle” the media, but said the media had been supportive of the sisters.
James Lockyer, a defense attorney for the sisters, said a potential media ’tilt’ is no reason to ban the publicity of the trial and listed examples of other people wrongfully convicted, such as the famous David Milgaard’s case, and how media coverage was imperative in these cases.
He said he didn’t want the bail request to be “surrounded by a publication ban” and for the sisters’ case to be “of massive public interest”.
While the court considers the publication ban, the hearing to determine whether the sisters will be released on bail is scheduled to take place in January.
Judge Layh said he would announce his decision on the publication ban next week.
Support inside and outside the courthouse
Keeseekoose First Nation Chief Lee Ketchemonia stood alongside the sisters’ family members in the courthouse, calling for their release.
Ketchemonia said it was shocking that the two sisters were originally charged and convicted in the 1990s.
“I had known them since we were kids…as the leader of our community, I’m here to come and help support the sisters,” he said before the hearing.
“Everyone in their family wants to see them released.”
Other advocates, including an Ontario senator and a vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, are part of the chorus of voices saying the sisters are innocent and calling on the Saskatchewan government to support the sisters’ bail.
Early last week, Senator Kim Pate and Vice Chief Kim Beaudin denounced the government’s request to ban the publication in an online press conference. Pate called it “absurd”.