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Yvonne Johnson

25 Year Sentence for Murder

Yvonne Johnson
shown with co-author Rudy Wiebe

Yvonne Johnson was paroled in 2008

In 2005, Yvonne Johnson applied for judicial review under the "faint hope clause" and won the right to ask for parole sooner and has been eligible for full parole since October 2005.

She has been living in a halfway house since being granted day parole in January 2008. Johnson was denied full parole following a hearing in Calgary in 2009, but was given additional overnight privileges.

Letter from Alan Wolfe:

Another person who has been convicted of murder and is presently serving a 25 year jail term without parole is Yvonne Johnson. Her parole will not be eligible until 2014.

In the book Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman, co-written with the acclaimed author, Rudy Wiebe, her tragic life has been fully revealed. Under the influence of alcohol, a fight broke out between several people in her home at Wetaskiwin, AB. A man that her cousin accused of being a child molester, ended up dead. Johnson was very protective of her young children and was originally trying to protect their welfare.

Because of the sad childhood she grew up in and the wild stories that the cousin was spreading about what the victim, Leonard "Chuck" Skwarok ("a friend of a friend") was allegedly doing to children, things unfortunately grew a little rough after he had been invited over to be confronted with the accusations.

However, at the time of the trial, the court transcripts show that the prosecutor's own chief medical witness proved that had Johnson committed the act that she was alleged to have done, death could not have happened. The only role Johnson had in that fight was the placing of a phone cord around the victim's neck for a few seconds, then released.

The crown's own medical witness testified that death was not caused by this action alone. Besides Johnson's cousin, Shirley Anne Salmon being present, was her husband, Dwayne Wenger, and an acqaintance Ernie Jensen.

Accusations are "that Wetaskiwin, with its deep and longstanding rifts between natives and nonnatives, is one jurisdiction where native people routinely receive tougher sentences than nonnatives." It seems quite clear that racism in this case played a major role in the outcome of the sentencing. The others, whites (with exception of the cousin), in this case received sentences of 10 - 11 years. There is no evidence to show that Johnson was guilty of anything beyond simple assault. Her trial took place in Wetaskiwin.

This, too, is one of the big travesties of injustice in Canada. Unfortunately because she is part native the book was thrown at her and no one in a responsible position wants it aired in the same way that no one wanted light to be shown on the other wrongly accused people.

Besides the book Stolen Life, an account of Yvonne Johnson's life was carried in the September, 1999 edition of Chatelaine.

The last that I had heard from Yvonne Johnson, she could be reached at Box 9243, Saskatoon, SK S7K 3X5. I understand that is the warden's address of the institution that she is currently in.

I don't know what assistance that you have to offer in this case but thought you should at least be aware of the case.

Yours truly,

Alan Wolfe

From Elizabeth Fry site:

Another example of the significant, albeit hidden role that prosecutorial discretion plays in murder cases is provided by Yvonne Johnson's case. The result in her prosecution demonstrates the flip side of systemic racism whereby accused who are not the most significant actors in a crime can be accorded the lion's share of legal and punitive responsibility for a crime.

Yvonne Johnson's account in Stolen Life (Johnson and Wiebe, 1998) illustrates how the Aboriginal woman accused of murder can be denied the benefit of Crown discretion in the prosecution in terms of plea bargaining, even where it is extended to the other perpetrators. She ended up as the only one of four to be convicted of first degree murder and therefore the one who is serving the longest sentence of imprisonment, by far.

A recently received letter from Yvonne Johnson, the co-author (with Rudy Wiebe) of Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman

Yvonne Johnson has been transferred against her will from the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge to the Edmonton Institute for Women. She is now the Chairperson of the Lifers' Group at the Edmonton Institute for Women, and is trying make the group independent and operative.

She says:

One event I would like to host is they have tours of young girls who are at high risk to be in conflict with the law. We had spoken to these young girls but it was short and sweet. I feel they still sort of fear us, that they do not see the real truth of things and the impact of things. I had suggested we set up a whole day of speaking and personal interaction with these kids. A sort of scared straight program but in a calm cool and collective way instead. It takes funds to place up events as this so this is where I would ask if you could somehow help the group help our selves and in turn help others.

I wanted to put up another event as well, we have abused women's shelters here in Edmonton. As a women's lifer's group we wish to interact with these women and children as well. As most women are in on lifer for murdering abusive spouses, or men who abuse the women for most of their lives.

If we can reach these women and children as they are at the shelters then we may prevent incidents of murder from occuring in the future. Somehow empower these women so they can break out of the cycle of abuse. So I do have a lot of ideas but need funds to try and achieve this and create a balance in the group so we can get our own stuff together and try to interact in a supportive manor with the public.

At these events we as well be giving them support, gifts we make and funds to help support the abused women's shelters. If you wish you can make any contributions directly to the lifers group Edmonton Institute for Women.

The address is:

Edmonton Institution for Women
11151 - 178 Street
Edmonton, AB
T5S 2H9