Saskatoon

James Smith Cree Nation inquest hears from pathologist Thursday

A forensic pathologist began testifying Thursday morning about causes of death at the inquest into the 11 deaths that happened during a stabbing massacre in 2022 at James Smith Cree Nation and village of Weldon, Sask.

Dr. Derek Musgrove detailing injuries, causes of death

A police SUV and a truck sit outside a building on a dark day.
RCMP members arrive at the public coroner's inquest in Melfort, Sask., into the mass stabbings that happened on James Smith Cree Nation in 2022. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A forensic pathologist began testifying Thursday morning about causes of death at the inquest into the 11 deaths that happened during a stabbing massacre in 2022 at James Smith Cree Nation and village of Weldon, Sask.

During the graphic, clinical testimony by Dr. Derek Musgrove, a dozen or so "wellness support" workers in white vests comforted family members of the victims with an arm around the shoulders or a tissue. Others escorted family members outside the main auditorium to private rooms.

Coroner Blaine Beaven ordered extra breaks Thursday morning for the mental health of families, community members and the six-member jury. Coroner's counsel Timothy Hawryluk agreed, saying he "can't imagine" how difficult it must be to hear these details.

In the morning's testimony, Musgrove detailed the wounds and causes of death for six of Myles Sanderson's 11 victims during the Sept. 4, 2022, tragedy.

Some victims likely died rapidly of a single stab wound with no signs of struggle, Musgrove said. Others sustained multiple wounds before they died. Hawryluk asked if that suggested a "relatively significant physical altercation." Musgrove said it's difficult to say definitively.

The faces of 11 people, with names and ages when they died, are all in one image.
Eleven people were killed in the Sept. 4, 2022, stabbings. Most were from James Smith Cree Nation. One man was from Weldon, Sask. (CBC)

Those victims include Sanderson's brother, Damien, who was initially a suspect because neither brother had been located.

Musgrove said the stab wounds to Damien Sanderson's left side were consistent with the RCMP's theory that Damien was stabbed as he sat in the passenger seat of a car, and that he was the first one killed.

He said Damien Sanderson may have died within minutes, but it may have taken up to an hour.

"I cannot opine that this would have rapidly been fatal," Musgrove said.

The autopsy reports of the remaining five victims are expected to be shared later Thursday.

Questions about systems

Wednesday's proceedings included speakers from the parole system and the correction system talking about killer Miles Sanderson's past.

While in prison, Sanderson was said to be on a path to recovery. When was released, he initially did make good progress and was working with an elder, while taking couples counselling, the inquest heard. But he soon went AWOL and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Many attempts to track him down failed.

Gloria Burns was one of Sanderson's victims. Her brother, Darryl Burns, said Wednesday that the justice system failed, despite multiple assessments of Sanderson.

"A lot of those assessments came back that he was violent. He posed a risk to reoffend and posed a risk to his family, his wife, and in-laws. The evidence supported that he would reoffend given a chance, and now it seems like he was given the chance," he said.

"Why was it so easy to get out of the system? Why was it so easy for him to remain at large? A lot of whys."

Burns said he hopes the inquest sparks some change.

WATCH | Brother of James Smith victim asks why killer was released:

Brother of James Smith victim asks why killer was released

3 months ago
Duration 1:27
Daryl Burns, whose sister Gloria was one of the people killed on James Smith Cree Nation, said Wednesday that the system failed, leading to killer Myles Sanderson being released.

Saskatchewan's outgoing treaty commissioner raised some questions about the structure of the inquest Wednesday. 

"These systems are colonial systems," Mary Musqua-Culbertson told reporters.

"I'm disappointed. I don't see federal government officials here. I don't see the provincial level people here. This happened to all of us, not just James Smith and the family from Weldon."

The province's coroners service says the witness list for the inquest was developed in consultation with the counsel representing James Smith Cree Nation.

Culbertson was also skeptical that any recommendations from the jury will be implemented. She said there has been a lack of progress on reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the commission examining missing and murdered Indigenous Women and girls.

"I don't have faith in almost any system … because I'm an Indigenous woman. I don't see a lot of positives in anything."

WATCH | James Smith Cree Nation inquest hears from pathologist Thursday:

James Smith Cree Nation inquest hears from pathologist Thursday

3 months ago
Duration 3:24
On Thursday, Dr. Derek Musgrove detailed the wounds and causes of death for six of Myles Sanderson's 11 victims during the Sept. 4, 2022, tragedy.

The inquest began last week in Melfort — a small city about 30 kilometres southeast of James Smith Cree Nation — and is scheduled to continue until Feb. 2. Jury members are listening to the evidence and will be tasked with providing recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.


Support is available for people affected by this tragedy. The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential.

Talking Stick is a Saskatchewan-based free anonymous chat platform that connects people seeking emotional support to a trained Indigenous peer advocate 24/7.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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