The fight to free two sisters gains momentum
- Kerry Benjoe | February 14, 2023
A chorus of happy birthday during an impromptu birthday celebration complete with a small cake and presents has left the supporters of Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance hopeful.
In 1994, the sisters were convicted of second-degree murder for their part in the killing of a Kamsack-area farmer and sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole for at least 10 years.
Although they have maintained their innocence, after almost three decades they remain incarcerated.
Three years ago, David Milgaard urged Innocence Canada to help the sisters and, after reviewing their case, the organization got involved.
Milgaard was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 23 years in prison before gaining his freedom. He died last year.
On Jan. 18, the sisters were at the Yorkton courthouse for a bail hearing.
Ron Dalton, co-president of Innocence Canada, was there with Win Wahrer, director of client services, along with a Toronto lawyer and some local lawyers to support the sisters.
During an hour-long break, about 20 people gathered in one of the rooms in the courthouse to celebrate Odelia’s, the elder sister’s, 51st birthday.
Dalton said it was the highlight of an otherwise emotional day for everyone.
“Odelia sat there with her family, her sisters, her cousins, her nieces and nephews and her legal team,” he said. “I had to stand back and look at this crowd gathered and hope and pray their future holds a lot more gatherings like that for them, just the simple things that we all take for granted.”
Odelia is currently living in a half-way house in Regina while Nerissa remains in prison. Dalton said bail doesn’t mean the sisters are free because they’ll have conditions to abide by while they wait for the federal justice minister’s decision.
“The minister has already decided that there’s a potential miscarriage of justice in their case,” said Dalton.
However, it could take years because after the federal justice minister decides a miscarriage of justice has occurred, the case moves on to a second stage and this is where the minister will grant a remedy.
The options are to overturn the conviction, order the provincial court of appeal to review the case again, or to uphold the conviction and leave matters as they stand.
“So that’s the process that we’re in now,” said Dalton. “But it could take three or four years. Is our best guesstimate.”
Dalton said the judge in this case has been fair and listened to both sides, which leaves him hopeful.
“The fact that they survived 30 years of incarceration in very difficult circumstances, I’m hopeful in the current climate, now that we’re starting to look at the effects of intergenerational trauma,” he said. “In our view, they’ve been there much longer than they should … they’ve been kept in cages and in captivity. I hope that you never have to feel what that’s like. I’ve had a taste of it, and I don’t consider that I’ve gone through anything near the type of ordeal that these two sisters have.”
Dalton said in many ways the sisters have been able to thrive and are known to help other people in their community, whether it’s in prison or outside of prison.
The judge reserved his decision and adjourned court until Feb. 23.