A new commission to review false convictions could reduce delays, but justice experts are hoping for bigger changes

Justice experts and social advocates say the Liberal government's proposed legislation for an independent commission to review possible wrongdoing cases is a step in the right direction, but requires some changes to realize its potential.  ( – photo credit)

Justice experts and social advocates say the Liberal government’s proposed legislation for an independent commission to review possible wrongdoing cases is a step in the right direction, but requires some changes to realize its potential. ( – photo credit)

Justice experts say proposed federal legislation that would create a new process to review potential wrongful convictions could benefit groups of people who are over-represented in Canada’s justice system — if done right.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti announced on Thursday that he would introduce legislation to set up a commission to review miscarriages of justice.

This would replace the current process – which gave the minister the final say in dealing with potential wrongful convictions under federal laws and regulations – and hopefully lead to faster outcomes. The Commission would also be independent of the Ministry of Justice.

Nicole Porter, a crime counsel at NA Porter and Associates and a social justice advocate, hopes the new system will help people wrongfully convicted transition back into the community.

“Some of these people have been institutionalized all their lives and have known nothing but prison,” Porter said, referring to two Saulteaux sisters who have been in the prison system for nearly 30 years but claim to be innocent.

Porter was working on a gratuitous, independent forensic analysis of 1994 murder convicts Odelia Quewezance, 51, and Nerissa Quewezance, 48, of the Keeseekoose First Nation, about 140 miles northeast of Regina.

The couple were arrested in 1993 for the murder of Anthony Joseph Dolff, a 70-year-old farmer near Kamsack, Sask., and for second-degree murder along with another person, who was a juvenile at the time and had confessed to the murder condemned .

Dayne Patterson/CBC

Dayne Patterson/CBC

Her defense team is pleading for her parole while her cases are investigated in the federal Justice Department’s review process as a possible wrongful conviction, which can take years.

“How our world works today is very different than it was 30 years ago, so providing the necessary support is … really a necessity,” Porter said.

transmission possibility

Once the new commission is in place, “existing applicants would be given an opportunity to consent to the transfer of their application to the new commission,” federal Justice Department spokeswoman Geneviève Groulx said in an email.

If they decide against a transfer and their application has already passed an evaluation stage, the old process would continue and the minister would make a decision, Groulx wrote.

Porter said in the sisters’ cases, their decision may depend on how long it takes for the commission to take action.

“If they’ve been involved in the review for a number of years, it may be in their best interest to hold out until that happens.”

HEAR | Federal Justice Minister David Lametti and an illegality expert support proposed review commission:

As it is now written, the Miscarriage of Justice Commission Act will have five to nine commissioners who will review and investigate criminal cases as potential wrongful convictions with the same powers that the Minister had: to order a new trial, to appeal or the reject application.

correct overrepresentation

Tinsel told Matt Galloway, host of CBCs The currentthat he hopes the commission will take action as soon as possible, but it will have to work through the House of Commons and Senate, which could involve changes to the legislation.

A government press release on Thursday said the commission will remove barriers for groups such as tribal peoples and black people – who are over-represented in the prison system – to gain access to the process.

“We try to ensure that groups [that are] who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system see it as a trusted institution to turn to,” Lametti said.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Porter said she provided a report detailing a lack of community support — including wellness, housing and employment — for people exiting the prison system after a wrongful conviction or for people pending a review decision were released.

Porter said some of these recommendations appear to have been incorporated into the legislation, but she hopes more will be part of the final product.

The law is also known as the David and Joyce Milgaard Law, named after David Milgaard — the Winnipeg-born man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years for the rape and murder of Saskatoon nurse Gail Miller — and his mother Joyce, who Milgaard is largely credited with securing his freedom.

CLOCK | Justice Minister Lametti announces new legislation to set up a Review Commission:

After his release, Milgaard continued to advocate for people he believed had been wrongly convicted, including the Quewezance sisters.

According to court documents, both Quewezance sisters attacked Dolff and were present when he was repeatedly stabbed – which doctors say was the likely cause of death – but say they are innocent of his death.

The defense argued in January that her confessions were coerced and unreliable. The Crown refused her release, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove the sisters were innocent of Dolff’s death and citing their probation violations during their incarceration.

“Whether they’re released on bail pending appeal … or they’ve already been identified as wrongly convicted, there’s really nothing right now that can help them when they get back into the community,” Porter said.

Porter thinks that given the time it could take for the law to go into effect, it would be better for the sisters to stay on their current trajectory, but the focus on tackling tribal peoples’ over-representation in the justice system could be theirs benefit from verification.

HEAR | James Lockyer, co-founder of Innocence Canada, on the new legislation and the case of the Quewezance sisters:

James Lockyer, part of the Quewezance sisters’ defense team and co-founder of Innocence Canada, narrated The afternoon edition that he and others in the advocacy group have pushed for the review board since the group’s inception in 1993.

He said some aspects of the legislation could be improved but “overall it is fantastic legislation”.

While the minister’s office has responded by examining evidence given to them, Lockyer said the commission will be proactive in investigating.

“The minister has an enormous range of responsibilities and giving him the responsibility of dealing with individual cases inevitably means a significant delay.”

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

From over-police to over-represented

In 2019, Judge Harry LaForme, a retired Ontario Court of Appeals judge, was asked by Attorney General Lametti, along with former Quebec Court Judge Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, to author a report on an independent process to review potential wrongful convictions create.

In an interview with CBC, LaForme said the legislation was not designed to address the issues faced by over-represented populations in prisons, including incarcerated Native Americans, but wanted it to be able to get to that point and examine this systemic issue as well.

“The fact is that indigenous people and black people … do not commit anything disproportionate [amount of] Crimes because they’re indigenous or black, they’re overrepresented because they’re over-monitored,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the systemic part of our judiciary is racist.”

According to the Correctional Officer’s Office, as of December 25, 2022, 85 percent of all women incarcerated federally in Saskatchewan were Indigenous.

LaForme said he wanted at least one of the commissioners to be black and another to be indigenous.

“But there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen, and I think there has to be,” LaForme said.

The proposed process said it would “reflect Canada’s diversity, including Indigenous and Black members.”


Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button