The jury from the inquest into one of Canada’s most brutal mass killings suggested changes to statutory release, prison programming and police practices it says could help prevent future violence.
The coroner’s inquest into Myles Sanderson’s September 2022 spree of fatal stabbings in the communities of James Smith Cree Nation and the village of Weldon was tasked with determining the cause of the 11 deaths and making recommendations to prevent similar atrocities in the future.
Over the last two weeks, the jury heard testimony from 30 witnesses and took in hundreds of pages of exhibits into evidence. The six jury members tasked with coming up with recommendations took about one day to deliberate.
On Wednesday afternoon, coroner Blaine Beaven acknowledged it’s been a hard road to walk for everyone involved.
“I want to acknowledge that this been an extraordinarily difficult few weeks. It’s been difficult for the jury; it’s been difficult for the council. And that pales completely in comparison to the difficulty that must have been felt by the survivors of the attacks, the families of those involved, and the community at large.”
Throughout the proceedings, many James Smith residents said they hoped to see substantive changes to address the twin epidemics of drug addiction and violence in their community, better monitoring for violent offenders on supervised release, and more effort to catch those who breach their conditions.
The recommendations offered by both the jury and the lead coroner on Wednesday hewed close to those points.
The sweeping set of recommendations included a call for further collaboration between James Smith and the RCMP through the development of a community safety plan. They asked that parole officers make sure an inmate has their medical care transition to a doctor in their community once they’re released.
The jury also called on the Correctional Service of Canada to assign a single case worker to oversee an inmate’s progress throughout their entire sentence in federal prison, as the inquest heard Sanderson was moved from worker to worker with little consistency.
Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore speaks during a press conference at RCMP “F” Division Headquarters in Regina on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Damien Sanderson and Myles Sanderson allegedly stabbed and killed 10 people between James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Sask. on Sunday morning, and the pair are presently at large. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell
Beaven offered his own list of suggestions, including an expansion of the warrant enforcement team and changes to its risk assessment index so that repeat domestic violence offenders are ranked higher.
“Given the testimony that many who commit serious violent offenses often have a history of domestic violence, this should be weighted to increase the rating of offenders with that characteristic,” he said.
The full list of findings is expected to be posted online in the next few days.
While their recommendations are not mandatory, the families of those killed in James Smith are hoping to see some real action.
Some attendees, like Kim Beaudin from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, are more skeptical.
Beaudin told reporters on Friday that agencies like the federal correctional service and the RCMP have a long history of receiving and ignoring recommendations that could improve the lives of First Nations people.
“They’ve released numerous reports for the last, what, five years? And when you take a look at the recommendations and how it impacts Indigenous people, they haven’t followed a lot of them.”
Beaudin said he and others had pushed the federal government for a public inquiry into the killings, like that held for the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, because that process has more powers to enforce its recommendations.
Their requests were denied, he said.
A second inquest into the death of Myles Sanderson, who went into medical distress minutes after being taken into police custody on Sept. 7, 2022, is scheduled to start on Feb. 26 in Saskatoon.