Nerissa Quewezance, who is seeking to be exonerated on her murder conviction in Saskatchewan, has lost her day parole.
The decision came after a three-hour virtual hearing with Parole Board of Canada Board Member Ryan Nash.
Nash said Quewezance, a Saulteaux woman from Keeseekoose First Nation and one of Canada’s longest-serving female inmates, had breached her parole conditions one too many times.
She and her older sister, Odelia Quewezance, are serving a life sentence for the 1993 murder of Kamsack, Sask.-area farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff. They say they are not guilty and have been wrongfully convicted.
It was their young cousin, Jason Keshane, who confessed to the crime. He has already served his sentence and been released.
But Nash said that background didn’t factor into his decision to renew or rescind Nerissa’s day parole, which was suspended earlier this year.
“I am troubled by the lack of progress you have demonstrated since your original day parole (was) granted in 2018,” he told a virtual hearing Wednesday that APTN News was approved to observe.
“I find the fact that you are serving a life sentence and were unaccountable for your whereabouts for over two years is aggravating.”
Residential school survivor
Nash was told by a parole officer that Nerissa doesn’t like being supervised while on release.
But Nerissa said because she is a residential school survivor she was triggered by the rules and curfews imposed on her as part of parole. She also had trouble accessing support on certain days, she said.
Nerissa said she would do better next time.
“I was going to turn myself in within a day or two,” she said about the time she skipped parole as a smudge pot burned in front of her on the table she was sitting at.
“I was really, really depressed. I was just waiting for the police to pick me up.”
Nash wasn’t persuaded, He said Nerissa’s record showed otherwise.
“Substance misuse, negative associates, lack of cooperation with supervision, (all) put you on a pathway that could lead certainly to a re-offence, including one that includes aggression,” he said.
“I do find that that represents a significant concern to public safety.”
When Nash decided to rescind her parole, Nerissa remained calm and hugged the woman sitting next to her who was providing support. Nerissa is behind bars in southern British Columbia.
She was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant after disappearing on parole in the spring of 2020 when Toronto lawyer James Lockyer first took on the Quewezance case. Police caught up to her in Vancouver in December 2021.
Surprisingly, Lockyer won her day parole later that month. But she violated her conditions six days later, the hearing was told.
Lockyer, who has asked Canada’s justice minister to quash the sisters’ convictions as a possible miscarriage of justice, said Nerissa can’t appeal Nash’s decision.
But a spokesperson for the parole board said decisions regarding conditional release may be appealed.
“The appeal must be sent to the Parole Board of Canada Appeal Division in Ottawa within three months of the date of the decision,” spokesperson Lisa Saether explained in an email to APTN.
Lockyer, in a telephone interview following the hearing, said the loss of parole shouldn’t affect the sisters’ application for a federal review of their case.
“There’s no reason at all why it should,” he said.
Lockyer applied to Justice Minister David Lametti in December. He has been told the application has been sent to a Department of Justice lawyer for review.
Meanwhile, Nerissa’s older sister Odelia was granted day parole in April 2022. She is living at a federal women’s healing lodge in Winnipeg.
Dolff’s family has declined to speak publicly about the case.
His granddaughter, whose identity is protected and was nine years old when he was killed, told Nash she was opposed to Nerissa being released on parole.
“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 now attempting to murder him again by way of damaging his memory and spinning the facts of their crime, being paroled,” the granddaughter said while virtually delivering an emotional victim impact statement at the hearing.