By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
Kim Beaudin, the national vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), has some strong convictions about Wrongful Conviction Day that took place on October 2.
“I think people should read, reflect, and ask themselves, if this is the kind of justice system that Canadians want, where we’re putting innocent people in prisons and jails across Canada,” he said.
CAP released a press release on Wrongful Conviction Day, an annual event, insisting the Government of Canada and Minister of Justice, Arif Virani take action and address the high number of Indigenous Peoples who are or were wrongfully convicted and have spent years in prisons.
“I don’t trust Canada’s justice system at all. It’s not fair. It doesn’t treat people equally. It will probably take centuries before it ever does,” said Beaudin.
Based on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) news, the Canadian registry “identifies 83 wrongful convictions, 16 of which represent Indigenous Peoples.” Read more: https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/wrongful-convictions-registry-indigenous-peoples-prison-innocence/#:~:text=The%20team%20said%20it%20took,of%20which%20represent%20Indigenous%20Peoples.
But Beaudin argues that these numbers are higher.
“If you have a 32 per cent federal population right now, who make up Indigenous inmates overall, then 32 per cent are federally incarcerated,” he noted. “I believe some of them are innocent, but they’re in prison. Up to 85 per cent of our provincial jails across Canada are Indigenous People.”
Beaudin believes the situation has a lot to do with signed treaties with the Crown hundreds of years ago. 1871 was the first treaty.
“They’re not honouring those treaties, and they never really honoured them. Most of our leaders and chiefs are in prisons and are on reserves.”
He also explained there are always legal proceedings throughout the courts, but from what he experienced and learned, the government did not want Indigenous Peoples to be part of the settler community. And the only way they could maintain this was to put most of them in jail and on reserves.
“[It seems they] don’t want you to know anything. If you come off that reserve, they will starve you out. If you’re on reserve you are not allowed to do anything. You can’t have economic development, nothing on it. And that’s how they wanted to eradicate every Indigenous person in Canada. As you know, genocide one-on-one,” he added.
Beaudin said that many Indigenous People are stuck in the justice system and they take pleas. They believe that the system is stacked against them. And so, they no longer see any chance of fighting against the government when they know they will lose anyway.
“[Defence lawyers] rarely ask the Indigenous Peoples if they are innocent or if they want to fight for their innocence. They always cut them a deal with the Crown and prosecutions,” he explained.
Under Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code, a Gladue report is a pre-sentencing and bail hearing report that an Indigenous offender can have when a Canadian court sentences them, only if the judge formally requests and orders the report. It takes into account the racism and discrimination that Indigenous Peoples face, and their background involving substance use, health issues and abuse.
“Gladue reports take prominence, but in Saskatchewan, the government will not put any money towards it. They rarely put any …. I don’t think they budget it, because they don’t care,” Beaudin said.
He pointed out that the Gladue report did not take effect with the case of the Quewezance sisters. Nerissa Quewezance and her sister Odelia Quewezance spent went almost 30 years in prison for what they describe as a wrongful conviction.
They were wrongfully convicted of a second-degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison in 1994 for the death of Kamsack farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff.
“I believe that there is hope for them. A lot of their time was wasted in prison,” Beaudin lamented.
The Quewezance sisters were conditionally released from custody in March of this year. They applied for a judicial review and hoped to determine a miscarriage of justice in their case.
For more information: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/quewezance-sisters-bail-decision-1.6790372
“[Wrongful Conviction Day] is important, and I hope that we can let more Canadians know about it. Many Indigenous people in our prison system shouldn’t even be there,” Beaudin said.
CAP and Beaudin will continue to help and support Indigenous Peoples who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.
“Don’t give up. Keep up the fight. Reach out to people who can help you. Fight back if you can,” Beaudin advises.