One of Canada’s longest-serving federal inmates saw her parole hearing end abruptly Thursday due to emotional overload.
Odelia Quewezance, 50, needed numerous recesses to confer with her parole officer, speak with her lawyer and compose herself while being questioned about her suitability for full parole.
“This has been a very emotional hearing for everyone involved, particularly you,” Parole Board of Canada member Janelle Jackiw told Quewezance, who, along with her younger sister Nerissa Quewezance, was convicted in 1994 of the second-degree murder of Joseph Dolff.
Their cousin Jason Keshane confessed to the brutal 1993 killing in a Kamsack-area farmhouse, and served a three-year sentence as a young offender. But the sisters, from Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan and were present during the crime, remain behind bars.
Jackiw said the toll of the hearing was hurting Odelia’s ability to answer questions – such as why, when on parole in the past, she breached some of her release conditions and was unable to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Jackiw said Odelia’s reactions were also affecting the board’s ability to assess the risk to society of releasing the mother of three into the community.
Odelia, in response to some of the questions, told Jackiw she was stronger now and better able to protect her sobriety, thanks to her cultural teachings and self-soothing strategies. She also said she had learned to impose and respect boundaries.
But Odelia was seen throughout the hearing closing her eyes, crying, and wiping her face with a tissue. She grasped an eagle feather throughout the proceeding.
She was visibly upset after a relative of Dolff’s was permitted to share a dramatic victim impact statement. And when she disclosed to the board gruesome details of her early childhood sexual abuse.
“It appears that as we continue through the hearing, your emotions become more difficult to manage,” Jackiw told the virtual hearing observed by several parties, including Dolff’s relative.
“We’ve made the decision that we are going to adjourn your hearing today for up to two months.”
The relative, identified onscreen as ‘Observer 3’, described Dolff as her “best friend.” She said she was a young girl when he was murdered and the crime robbed her of a loving person she looked up to and trusted.
“We feel, once again, that our safety and security is in jeopardy with the prospect of the offender who brutally murdered our loved one and is attempting to murder him again by way of damaging his memory…being paroled in Location A,” she said.
The relative requested a “geographical restriction” that, if released, Odelia would not be allowed to enter three communities in Saskatchewan that were not named but were known to the board.
“This would offer us a chance to restore some security, and most of all hope that we may continue to heal without our lives being once again disrupted by this offender,” the relative said.
Quewezance didn’t respond when the board abruptly ended her hearing around the four-hour mark.
But her lawyer, James Lockyer, voiced concern.
“Odelia is, as I understand it, the longest-serving inmate – along with her sister – in the penitentiary system,” he said. “They are two of the approximately 50 per cent of Indigenous women that make up 50 per cent of the penitentiary inmates.”
Lockyer wasn’t happy to see another two months tacked onto Odelia’s time.
“I wish the board would have at least granted her day parole today,” he said. “Tomorrow is the 29th anniversary since the day of her arrest.”
Lockyer, who recently secured day parole for Nerissa before she violated a condition of release in B.C., is also representing the sisters on their joint claim of wrongful conviction. He has asked Justice Minister David Lametti to review their case.
The sisters, who are Saulteaux, have been paroled before and breached their conditions, which has contributed to their lengthy sentences.
“It’s just really unfortunate and, in my opinion, unreasonable for her hearing to be adjourned for two months, particularly without even hearing anything from Odelia or myself,” Lockyer added.
A new date for the hearing has not yet been set.