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Sask. sisters claiming wrongful imprisonment meet for first time in 18 years in court

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A pair of indigenous sisters who have been separated for nearly two decades over a crime they insist not commit were tearfully reunited Thursday in Yorkton, Sask, embracing on the grounds of the Court of King’s Bench.

In 1994, Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Anthony Dolff, a farmer from Kamsack, Sask.

They last saw each other almost 18 years ago at their late father’s funeral.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Odelia, 51, said Thursday. “It’s pretty sad that it had to take this to be together, to see each other… they kept us apart.”

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 said.

“We are not violent…we have a big heart.”

Odelia Quewezance, 51, standing on the steps where she and her sister were once convicted of a murder they claim they did not commit. She recalled looking out of some of the upper windows nearly three decades ago. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

The sisters are from the Keeseekoose First Nation, located about 230 kilometers northeast of Regina. They maintain that they have been wrongfully imprisoned for Dolff’s death for almost 30 years, including the time they spent in custody prior to the convictions.

Thursday’s meeting took place in front of the courthouse where they were first convicted.

The Quewezance sisters are applying for probation while they await a lengthy federal review to determine if their case was a judicial error.

While the interim judicial review hearing, to determine whether the sisters would be allowed certain liberties while the federal review was underway, was scheduled for Thursday and Friday, it was replaced by a hearing to discuss whether the new details of the hearing should be subject to review. a publication ban.

The defense, CBC and APTN oppose the publication ban.

“Hopefully this is a start for everyone to start reaching out to us Native people, especially Aboriginal women in prison. A lot of my sisters are still suffering… there’s still a lot of injustice,” Nerissa, 48, said. during a publishing break. hearing ban.

He said seeing his sister was “surreal” and emotional. The two were allowed to eat together and with her family at lunch.

Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance embrace outside the Yorkton, Sask, courthouse after nearly two decades apart. Nerissa was accompanied by an RCMP officer. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

arguments in court

The sisters sat together at court. Nerissa was shackled before Judge Donald Layh allowed a defense request to have her restraints removed while she was in the courtroom.

With Dolff’s family in attendance, prosecutor Kelly Kaip argued that the release ban at a bond hearing was not unusual and would uphold a fair trial going forward if there is one as a result of federal review.

A federal review could result in an appellate trial or an entirely new trial, or the referral of a matter of law to the provincial Court of Appeal.

Kaip indirectly addressed criticism made by advocates, stating that the ban would not “muzzle” the media, but said the media has been favorable to the sisters.

James Lockyer, a defense attorney for the sisters, said possible media “bias” is not a reason to ban publicity about the trial and listed examples of other wrongfully convicted people, such as the famous David Milgaard case, and how the Media coverage was imperative in those cases.

He said he does not want the bail hearing request “shrouded in a publication ban” and that the sisters’ case is in the “great public interest.”

While the court considers the publication ban, the hearing to determine whether the sisters will be granted bail is expected to take place in January.

Judge Layh said he will declare his decision on the publication ban next week.

Support inside and outside the court

Chief Lee Ketchemonia of the Keeseekoose First Nation stood with the sisters’ family members in court, advocating for their release.

Ketchemonia said it was shocking when the two sisters were initially charged and convicted in the 1990s.

“I’ve known them since we were girls… as the head of our community, I’m here to come and help support the sisters,” she said before the hearing.

“Everyone in their family wants to see them released.”

Chief Lee Ketchemonia, left, and Odelia, right. Ketchemonia said the sisters’ imprisonment has been difficult for both friends and family in the community. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

Other advocates, including a senator from Ontario and a deputy head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, are among the chorus of voices saying the sisters are innocent and calling on the Saskatchewan government to support bail for the sisters.

Earlier last week, both Senator Kim Pate and Deputy Chief Kim Beaudin denounced the government’s request to ban the publication as part of an online press conference. Pate called it “absurd”.

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