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James Smith Cree Nation calls for binding recommendations

JSCN is asking Canada for federal support to implement recommendations from the inquests on the First Nation.
A photo of Myles Sanderson as released by the RCMP at the time of the stabbings.

JAMES SMITH CREE NATION — James Smith Cree Nation says the Saskatchewan Coroners Service inquest into the death of James Smith band member and the perpetrator of the mass stabbing on Sept. 4, 2022, Myles Sanderson, served its purpose as a fact-finding mission, however, they are disappointed the recommendations made at both inquests are non-binding.

Following is a release issued Friday by James Smith Cree Nation:

“We saw that the RCMP did everything within their power to take Myles Sanderson into custody alive.  Once arrested, the RCMP and medical responders used all the tools at their disposal to try to save his life. We commend them for their compassion and bravery,” said Chief Wally Burns.

At a separate Saskatchewan Coroners Service inquest earlier this year, the jury found Sanderson responsible for the deaths of 11 people from James Smith and Weldon that took place on September 4, 2022

Sanderson also injured 17 community members in the mass stabbing attack.

After hearing testimony from witnesses from Feb. 26 to 29 in Saskatoon at the second inquest, a six-person jury found that Sanderson died from acute cocaine toxicity, and the death was accidental.

The jury made four recommendations yesterday; one directed at the Saskatoon Police Service to establish a team to capture and arrest those with outstanding warrants.

Three recommendations were made to the RCMP, to enhance driver training for officers, to review their policies for high-speed pursuits and a recommendation for additional training for officers on extraction techniques for arrest takedowns.

JSCN leadership says the scope of the inquest was limited; however, they are satisfied with the process as it allowed the details of the manhunt and circumstances around Sanderson’s death to be revealed to family members and the public.

James Smith Cree Nation will continue to advocate for a national inquiry into the massacre and lobby for reforms inside prisons and the parole system, says Burns. It’s also working to create a self-administered police force on reserve.

“The system failed to help Myles Sanderson. We see his mental health, addictions, and the root causes of his anger were not corrected inside the system. I fear this could happen again without mandatory participation in culturally appropriate programming to rehabilitate criminals,” said Burns. "We are calling on the federal government to sit at the table with us to address the systemic issues that contributed to the deaths in James Smith Cree Nation.”

Court records show Myles Sanderson was charged with 125 crimes as an adult and he had a record as a young offender. There were 47 cases filed against him in Saskatchewan Provincial Court. Those include two attempted murders, 18 assaults and three break-and-enters. Four of the assaults were stabbings using weapons such as knives, a fork, and broken beer bottles.

“We want Correctional Services Canada held accountable. Indigenous people represent over 80 per cent of people in Canada’s prisons. From our own accounts, we know intergenerational trauma, poverty, and addictions contribute to people turning to crime. As we work to change external pressures, Canada needs to take the reform of prisoners seriously and rid the jails of drugs and gangs. We know offenders who enter the prison system are at risk of becoming more criminalized and put at odds with organized gangs. The system is failing our people by not caring to focus on rehabilitation,” said Peter Chapman Band Chief Robert Head (in the tri-nation of James Smith).

James Smith Cree Nation is calling for the Parole Board of Canada to directly notify and incorporate input from First Nations governments across Canada about offenders prior to their release. The band is looking to partner with the government to create on-reserve aftercare programs and transition housing for people exiting jails and prisons

“Many First Nations people have turned their lives around when properly supported in the community after incarceration. We know culture and ceremony improve physical and mental health by instilling a renewed sense of pride and identity. We want housing that encourages sober living, land-based teachings and job skills training to be part of inmates' healing journey. We need those supports for them as they make their way back to our communities,” said Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson (in the tri-nation of James Smith)

On its own initiative, JSCN seeks to expand its programming on the First Nation to offer more assistance to offenders exiting the justice system. There have been other homicides on the JSCN reserve, including recent deaths of band members in 2021 and 2019. Leadership says they’ve made repeated appeals for Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers to be stationed on the First Nation; however, the calls were met with insufficient responses.

About 1,850 people live on James Smith located 200 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The closest RCMP officers are in Melfort, 45 kilometres away.

After the Sept. 4, 2022 massacre, JSCN leaders initiated their own security guard patrols by its local band members

 JSCN leadership continues to operate the security guard service on the First Nation to help improve safety for residents. Twenty-eight security guards parole the First Nation 24 hours a day, seven days a week and work closely with local RCMP to help reduce crime. Federal funding for this program ends March 31, 2024.

Leadership acknowledges that security guards are not enough to deal with crime on James Smith and is working to establish a trained and armed self-administered police force with the power to enforce Canada's criminal code. From studying other First Nations police forces in operation, JSCN has plans to include a social worker to work alongside the First Nations police to address addictions and other socio-economic circumstances that may contribute to crime.

The Assembly of First Nations National Chief Woodhouse Nepinak and the AFN’s Justice and Policing Task Force Committee are asking the federal government to declare policing an essential service on all First Nations and to allocate federal funding annually for First Nation police forces. She says the conditions on JSCN are not unique to the region as First Nations across Turtle Island are struggling with escalating violence, gangs, drugs and criminal activity for example.

 “The Saskatchewan Coroner's Inquest has exposed that First Nations need equitable funding for policing services in Canada. First Nations Policing Programs are grossly underfunded, which impedes our rights to exercise self-determination by providing police services for our Nations. As such, First Nations police services must be recognized as essential and fully funded in the upcoming federal budget,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak. “We continue to be inspired by the courage and strength of James Smith Cree Nation, the community of Weldon, as they come together in this time of reflection and healing. On behalf of the AFN, our hearts go out to every individual, First Nation, and all impacted by this devastating occurrence,” said Chief Woodhouse Nepinak

JSCN is asking Canada for federal support to implement recommendations from the inquests on the First Nation.

Of the recommendations from the first inquest into the casualties of the mass stabbing, JSCN is placing ‘high priority’ on the Nation’s public safety objectives

They look to work with governments and institutions of the day on the following:

• All recommendations related to developing a public safety strategy with the RCMP, obtaining further funding for the security force, and continuing work to develop the JSCN police force (Jury recommendations to JSCN 4 and 5; Coroner recommendation 1)

• All recommendations regarding increasing communications between CSC, the RCMP, and JSCN regarding notifying JSCN when members are unlawfully at large (Coroner recommendations 6, 7, 8, 9, and 12)

• Recommendation to CSC to hire more elders in all federal correctional centres (Jury recommendation to CSC 2; Coroner’s recommendations 13, 14)

• Recommendation to CSC to increase program availability while reducing caseload on facilitators and elders involved (Jury recommendation to CSC 3)

• Recommendation to CSC to ensure offenders with a history of domestic violence (whether on current offence or in their history) be required to complete domestic violence programming while incarcerated (Coroner recommendation 11)

• Recommendation to JSCN to consider and evaluate programming it offers regarding; addictions and substance abuse; victim services; adverse childhood experiences; domestic or intimate partner violence; traditional parenting; and programming for children (Jury recommendation to JSCN 1)

• Recommendation for CSC to develop programming to enable support persons to provide a healthy and successful environment for offenders to be released into and actively encouraging offenders and support persons to participate in such programming (Coroner recommendation 15)

• Recommendation to CSC that the assigned parole officer increase focus on designated offenders through contacts within the first month of the offender being deemed unlawfully at large (Jury recommendation to CSC 4).