Over a year after one of the worst mass killing events in Canada, the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service will open a public inquest on Monday in Melfort, Saskatchewan.
The two-week inquest will do a deep dive into the 11 traumatic deaths that occurred on the James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon, Saskatchewan on September 4, 2022.
According to the Saskatchewan RCMP, the inquest is meant to inform the public about the circumstances surrounding these deaths, as well as offer recommendations to avoid preventable deaths.
In April, the RCMP gave a preliminary timeline of the events. The timeline focused on the activities of Myles and Damien Sanderson before the morning on Sept. 4, the sequence of the attacks, and their movements throughout the community.
Investigators determined Myles Sanderson was solely responsible for the multiple stabbing deaths on James Smith Cree Nation, including the murder of his brother.
However, the RCMP did not include information about Myles being unlawfully at large, correctional service and parole information, police response to the attacks, what happened at each location, as well as information related to the cause and manner of the death of each victim. All topics left out of the timeline are expected to be covered during the January inquest.
During the timeline presentation, police said Myles Sanderson travelled to James Smith Cree Nation on Sept. 1, 2022 and was involved in selling cocaine for the following 24 hours. Over the course of the next few days, Myles and his brother Damien sold drugs, assaulted people, split up and met up again.
Two police officers arrived at the First Nation on Sept. 3, responding to a report that Damien had stolen a vehicle and might be driving impaired. The two officers couldn’t locate anyone that looked like Damien, with police saying the most recent photo of him in the database was from 2014. Officers patrolled the entire community for three hours with no results, and police said at no time was Myles Sanderson’s name mentioned.
According to police, the pair made their last known drug sale around 4 a.m.
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The stabbings did not begin until early in the morning on Sept. 4. After the first stabbing, police said there was a fight between Myles and Damien in the van they were traveling in. Investigators said Damien tried to escape the assault in the van by getting out and running into the nearby bushes, where he later died, and was found by police on Sept. 5.
Myles continued his rampage alone, resulting in a total of 11 dead and 17 injured. He traveled in multiple stolen vehicles throughout the course of his stabbing spree. He was arrested by RCMP on Sept. 7 in the evening near Rosthern, Sask.
Global News confirmed Sanderson was dead a short while later, with police sources saying Sanderson died in police custody after ingesting drugs. RCMP have not confirmed the cause of Sanderson’s death.
According to documents from the Parole Board of Canada, Sanderson had a lengthy criminal history, including 59 convictions as an adult. He received statutory release in August 2021 from his first federal prison sentence of more than four years. He was deemed unlawfully at large by the Correctional Service of Canada in May 2022.
Since the stabbings, the community has fought to prevent more tragedies like 2022 killings from happening. Band leadership has tried to crack down on substance use within the community and security patrols are being more vigilant.
“Change is hard to visualize,” said Darryl Burns, an addictions counsellor on James Smith Cree Nation in a previous interview with Global News. “They don’t know what a sober lifestyle is, they don’t know what a healthy relationship is. They don’t know how to live a sober lifestyle when addiction is all they know, the trauma is all they know. So trying to change that mindset in people is hard.”
Eddie Head, James Smith’s director of justice and policing has said the process is long and must be done right.
He’s now working to implement self-administered policing at James Smith — a goal which he believes is about 1o to 12 years away from operation. He’s also helped to ramp up security, which now patrols the community 24/7.
Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said the RCMP has also been looking at ways to improve things, and that an independent officer review will be coming down sometime after the Coroner’s inquests. Blackmore confirmed the First Nation now has a security team in place who can relay information to officers.
The inquest begins at 10:00 a.m. Monday at the Kerry Vickar Centre and is expected to take two weeks. The week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 has also been reserved in case more time is needed. Coroner Blaine R. Beaven will preside over the inquest.
A separate inquest has been scheduled for Sanderson from Feb. 26 to March 1, 2024, in Saskatoon.
— With files from Global News’ Brody Langager and Ashleigh Stewart
© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.