WARNING: This story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers.
LLOYDMINSTER – Braden Richard Bull was murdered after a disagreement over rival street gang handshakes spiralled out of control, Lloydminster Provincial Court heard Thursday.
Bull, 32, of Little Pine First Nation, was last seen Jan. 7, 2020, and was reported missing Jan. 20. His body was found the next day.
Vega Bear, now 25, and Branden Dillon, 27, were charged with second-degree murder. In July, Bear pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
North Battleford Crown Prosecutor Oryn Holm told the court that Bear’s gang involvement was an aggravating factor.
“This story is impossible to tell without mentioning the gang factors,” said Holm. “If it had not been for those affiliations on both sides of this offence I doubt we would have ended up here."
Holm told the court that the attack on Bull was a violent, prolonged and brutal act.
“This is about as close you can get to murder where it is still manslaughter,” said Holm. “There were further indignities with Bull left in the elements for two weeks for animals to feed on.”
The Crown, and Saskatoon defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle, entered a joint agreement to the court Oct. 21.
The court heard that on Jan. 7, 2020, Braden Bull and several others left Little Pine First Nation and headed to Lloydminster. They stopped in Delmas to buy alcohol and drank throughout the drive.
Redd Alert and Westside Outlaws
The vehicle included members from Redd Alert and Westside Outlaws street gangs.
“While Redd Alert and Westside Outlaws sometimes have an easy truce, the relationship between the two groups is volatile and violence often happens in confrontations between the two street groups,” Holm told the court.
During the drive Bull, an affiliate with Redd Alert, pressured a 13-year-old Westside Outlaws gang member to perform a Redd Alert handshake.
“He had difficulty performing this handshake properly and he was struck by Bull,” said Holm, adding that the youth was struck repeatedly and was crying. Other people in the vehicle were telling Bull to leave the youth alone.
At one point they met up with another vehicle in Lloydminster and Bull instructed two women to beat up another woman.
The group arrived in Onion Lake Cree Nation shortly after midnight on Jan. 8, 2020, and they went to a residence.
Bear saw someone crying and he was told what had happened, that the youth was being forced to perform a Redd Alert handshake by Bull.
Bull flashed a Redd Alert hand symbol to a man who subsequently hit Bull. He fell to the ground.
Bull was told to leave Onion Lake.
Holm said it isn’t clear how Bull ended back up at the residence and in the basement.
In the basement Bull got into an argument with a man who hit Bull about 10 times. Bear initially just watched the assault but when it was finished Bear hit Bull in the face and Bull fell to the ground and lost consciousness for awhile.
Another person hit Bull with a baseball bat. Bull was dragged upstairs. Throughout this he kept asking for help.
Bear and two other men drove Bull 15 kilometres southeast of Onion Lake. Bull was still asking them for help.
Bear dumped Bull in the snow with minimal clothing on in below freezing temperatures.
“Vega Bear was aware that Braden Bull would not survive freezing temperatures,” said Holm.
Bull died shortly after.
When Bear went back to the residence he told one of the residents, “I don’t like bullies.”
The stolen vehicle used to dump Bull was located by Onion Lake RCMP at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2020. Bull’s blood was found in the vehicle, as well as his sweater.
A few hours later, RCMP responded to a call about an SUV in a ditch on Highway 17 on Onion Lake. Officers found Bear sitting in the vehicle trying to get out of the ditch. He had a propane torch with him, which he was supposed to use to torch the stolen vehicle used to dump Bull.
On Jan. 21, 2020, a family out for a walk found Bull’s body covered in snow. He didn’t have any clothes on his upper body and he wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks.
An autopsy revealed that Bull had multiple skull fractures and the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
“Hypothermia was ruled out,” said Holm.
Holm said Bear has a criminal record for driving, property and violent crimes. In 2018 he was sentenced to 20 months.
Holm said the Crown recognizes that Bear is “a person struggling with demons,” adding that there are Gladue factors to consider, which add context.
Holm told the court that the joint agreement was reached after a lot of back and forth with defence.
“There was compromise on both sides,” said Holm. “It started as second-degree murder. There is evidence of that intent.”
He said, however, that there were difficulties with the case. The RCMP spoke to 40 people who were either gang affiliates or had addiction issues, or both.
Bear’s life got worse when he moved to Onion Lake
Defence Brian Pfefferle told the court that Bear is from Pelican Lake First Nation and had a troubled background.
“Colonization and the presence of non-Indigenous people became a significant problem,” he said, adding that the economic development of the First Nations community changed as it catered to the newcomers.
Bear also lived on Whitefish and Chitek Lake where his parents neglected him. There was significant domestic violence in his home and Bear was introduced to alcohol at an early age.
In spite of these challenges, Pfefferle said Bear was a good student and excelled in high school.
Things changed for the worse when he moved to Onion Lake. Pfefferle said young Indigenous men, who don’t have many opportunities, hook up with people and become affiliate gang members. Pfefferle said Bear saw gang affiliation as a source of survival. He became addicted to methamphetamine in Onion Lake.
Pfefferle said Bear knows he can’t change what happened but he hopes someday to become a productive member of society.
“Vega was in a situation he didn’t want to be involved in at the outset and he wishes he had dome something to prevent the outcome. He had no ill wishes to the young man and he wants the court and (victim’s) family to be aware of that.”
Pfefferle said Bear wants to take cultural programs, addictions treatment and get a vocation.
“He wants to come out a better person than when he went in.”
Victim’s mother speaks out
Bull’s mother Lori Bull read a victim impact statement saying Bear took away her best friend.
“I will not curse you or wish you the worst but I pray my son gets justice. You don’t know how many hearts you tore apart.
“Can you feel my grief?” she asked Bear. “It will bring you to your knees.”
She said her son played hockey and soccer and was a mentor to young players.
"I can't watch hockey or soccer games without crying. His absence is sure being noticed by many teams. He was well-known for his athletic ability and how well he played hockey and soccer."
She said he enjoyed cooking and his daughters miss him.
Bear appeared by CCTV from Saskatoon Correctional Centre and he wiped his eyes several times and hung his head throughout most of Lori Bull's victim impact statement.
Bear gets maximum sentence
Judge Murray Pelletier accepted the Crown and defence’s joint submission.
Bear was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the maximum allowed for manslaughter. He won’t be eligible for parole for six years and he has to submit his DNA to the National DNA Databank. A 10-year ban on owning firearms was imposed.
Bear was given 190 days credit for time served while in custody.
Dillon appears in Lloydminster Provincial Court Nov. 17.
Onion Lake State of Emergency
Bull’s murder is one of three murders in approximately two months that prompted Onion Lake Cree Nation to declare a state of emergency in January 2020 after a string of gang and drug-related violence threatened the safety of its 4,000 residents.
OLCN held an emergency meeting on Jan. 22, 2020, to deal with what they called increasing drug and gang activity on OLCN. They issued a media release on Jan. 24, 2020, saying they were declaring a state of emergency because the escalating drug and gang activity had directly led to increased violence in the community.
“On Jan. 21, 2020, the community of Onion Lake experienced what are believed to be drug and gang related occurrences,” the release said.
“The Nation has now experienced three deaths directly related to drugs and gang activity within the last two months, along with numerous high speed chases and violent crimes.”
OLCN has three townships spanning 188,000 acres. OLCN borders the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and is located about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster.
If you are associated with a gang and want to leave it, contact STR8 UP in northern Saskatchewan at 306-763-3001, STR8 UP in central Saskatchewan at 306-244-1771, or Regina Treaty Status Indian Services in southern Saskatchewan at 306-522-7494 to get assistance.
If anyone has any information that could assist investigators, please contact Onion Lake RCMP at 306-344-5550. Information can also be submitted anonymously to Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submitting a tip online at www.saskcrimestoppers.com.