Saskatoon

James Smith inquest hears about how RCMP prioritize warrants as 2nd week gets underway

The coroner's inquest into the September 2022 stabbing massacre at James Smith Cree Nation begins its second of three weeks on Monday.

Inquest into 2022 mass stabbing that left 11 dead, 17 injured began in Melfort last week

A man with a briefcase walks by a teepee on his way into a building.
People enter into the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort last Wednesday for the coroner's inquest into the mass stabbings that happened on James Smith Cree Nation in 2022. (Liam RIchards/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The James Smith Cree Nation man who murdered 11 people and wounded 17 others was unlawfully at large at the time of the killings, but an RCMP officer says his specialized unit was busy pursuing others with far worse criminal records.

"I fully recognize Myles Sanderson's [previous] record was atrocious, but unfortunately it was quite standard," Ryan How, RCMP's Saskatchewan Enforcement and Response Team (SERT) north region manager, testified Monday in Melfort, Sask., at the inquest into the mass stabbings Sanderson perpetrated on Sept. 4, 2022.

How said there are active warrants issued for approximately 5,000 people in Saskatchewan at any time. Half of those are for violent offences. On the day in question, there were 5,468, he testified.

Sanderson had been released from prison and said he would be residing in Saskatoon. The Saskatoon Police Service issued a warrant for Sanderson in early May 2022 when he failed to check in with his parole officer, How said. RCMP had no indication Sanderson was outside the jurisdiction of Saskatoon police.

How explained how his unit prioritizes its searches by assigning a point value based on the offender's current offences, "to make sure the worst of the worst are always at the top."

He showed a chart featuring a range of point values from 1,000 for murder, manslaughter, attempted murder or discharging a firearm with intent, to five points for uttering threats, extortion or obstructing a peace officer.

Although this current point system was not in place in September 2022, Myles Sanderson's relevant offences — which included two counts of assault with a weapon, robbery and uttering threats — would have led to a total score of 105, How said.

How said there are 63 Saskatchewan offenders currently over 100 points, 18 over 1,000 points and one at 5,145.

He said the goal is to find and arrest the most dangerous criminals. He said a small number of severe offenders can dramatically increase the level of crime in an entire community.

WATCH | James Smith Cree Nation massacre inquest enters 2nd week: 

James Smith Cree Nation massacre inquest enters 2nd week

3 months ago
Duration 4:21
The James Smith Cree Nation man who murdered 11 people and wounded 17 others was unlawfully at large at the time of the killings, but an RCMP officer testified Monday that his specialized unit was busy pursuing others with far worse criminal records.

During questions, a jury member asked whether the unit should consider including all of a criminal's offences, not just the current ones. The inquest has heard Sanderson has committed a long list of crimes going back years.

How said they considered that, but that the priority is efficiency and current threat levels.

"It becomes a matter of volume. It becomes so convoluted, and everyone's got a history. These are seasoned criminals. It gets to a point that it becomes irrelevant what they've done. It's about what they're doing now," How said.

A family member with standing — meaning they can also question witnesses — asked if RCMP should specifically consider including all of an offender's domestic violence charges, given the high levels of the crime and its value as a predictor of future violence.

How said that is a good point and it's under active consideration.

Earlier Monday, the inquest heard details about the level of emergency response to the tragedy.

Dozens of RCMP, conservation officers, highway patrol officers and medical staff all rushed to the scene.

Sherri Jule, the Saskatchewan Health Authority's director of emergency medical services for northern Saskatchewan, told the inquest a total of 36 medical staff responded. That included ambulances from the communities of Melfort, Tisdale, Nipawin and Prince Albert, as well as all three medical helicopters stationed in Saskatoon and Regina.

A total of 16 people were transported to various hospitals and all survived, she said.

"That's amazing work. Thank you," said coroner's counsel Timothy Hawryluk.

Jule was asked if there was anything she and her team learned from the tragedy. She said she believes they did the best job they could.

"I truly believe we had a very efficient response," she said.

During questioning, one of the James Smith family members said her mom was hung up on and she was put on hold. Jule said callers can sometimes be put on hold when there are too many calls at once.

The family member was asked what code colour priority level her loved one was assigned. Jule said she didn't know any of the victims' personal details and didn't know how the woman could get that information.

The inquest adjourned early Monday afternoon and resumes Tuesday morning. It's expected to last another two weeks.

A total of 31 witnesses are expected to testify and answer questions from jurors and people with standing at the inquest. 

WATCH | Stabbing victim's daughter describes questioning witnesses at inquest: 

Stabbing victim's daughter shares what it is like to question witnesses at inquest

3 months ago
Duration 1:32
Deborah Burns, the daughter of Earl Burns Sr. — one of the victims of the 2022 mass stabbing on James Smith Cree Nation — and sister to Vanessa Burns shares what it has been like to mentally prepare to question witnesses at the inquest the stabbings.

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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