Correctional Service to Pay Métis Inmate $7,500 for Charter Rights Violation

Correctional Service to Pay Métis Inmate $7,500 for Charter Rights Violation
Patches are seen on the arm and shoulder of a corrections officer, on Oct. 26, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Amanda Brown

A Métis prison inmate has been awarded $7,500 by a federal judge following a violation of his Charter rights by the Correctional Service.

Jeffrey Ewert, a convicted murderer, made a formal complaint that prison staff had interfered with his sacred “medicine bundle” of feathers and arrowheads and that by touching it, they had breached his Charter right to freedom of religion, Blacklock’s Reporter said.

“The sanctity of Mr. Ewert’s medicine bundle was infringed in a manner he viewed as a desecration,” wrote Federal Court Justice Nicholas McHaffie. “While none of the objects in the medicine bundle were physically damaged, it would be wrong to unduly focus on the physical over the spiritual or intangible, particularly in matters involving freedom of religion.”

Mr. Ewert, previously a resident of Langley, B.C., is currently serving a double life sentence in connection with a crime spree in 1984. He was found guilty of sexually assaulting and physically assaulting a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Surrey, whom he abandoned in a nearby landfill. He was also convicted of the murder by strangulation of a 19-year-old hitchhiker, whose body he disposed of in the Fraser River.

In court, it was said Mr. Ewert “had little support when facing racism in school,” “grew ashamed of his indigenous heritage,” and lacked “direction and self-respect.”

Once in prison, Mr. Ewert embraced his indigenous heritage and teachings and sought spiritual guidance, assembling a sacred collection known as a medicine bundle. The bundle included feathers, “arrowheads wrapped in velvet,” sacred stones, headbands, and various other special items.

“Mr. Ewert’s medicine bundle is sacred to him,” wrote Justice McHaffie. He considered it “a pure object that acts like a second conscience” that must never be touched by strangers.

“One of the teachings Mr. Ewert received with respect to his medicine bundle is that he is the only one who should touch it,” wrote the court. “The evidence suggests this is a widely held belief in indigenous communities.”

In 2019, when Ewert was relocated to a minimum security section of the Archambault Institution in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, it was shown prison administrators examined the contents of the medicine bundle.

“The search of his medicine bundle constituted a non-trivial interference with his ability to act in accordance with his religious beliefs,” wrote Justice McHaffie.

“The real issue is not whether the search should have been conducted but how,” added Justice McHaffie. Prison guards should have asked the inmate to open the bundle for inspection, he wrote.

The court determined that handling the items without Mr. Ewert’s consent amounted to a violation of his Charter right to religious freedom.

“I am satisfied the evidence including Mr. Ewert’s testimony establishes he sincerely believes his medicine bundle is a pure and sacred object, that it has assisted him in his healing, recovery, and sobriety, that it is to be kept in his possession, that he should be the only person who touches his medicine bundle and that it is desecrated if anyone other than him touches it,” wrote Justice McHaffie.