Families sighed with relief as the coroner’s inquest into the 11 people that died on James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon in 2022 came to a close Wednesday evening.
“This inquest brought us together to seek truth and share truth together and I think that at the end of the day, there is comfort in this inquest and the recommendations that are going to be implemented,” said Chelsea Stonestand, who stood for her late relatives in the two-and-a-half-week inquest.
The process highlighted the path of Myles Sanderson’s stabbing rampage throughout the communities, detailing each attack, as well as the killer’s personal and criminal history.
A jury and coroner sat in on the proceedings, tasked with making recommendations to prevent a future tragedy from happening and address gaps in systems that Sanderson might have fallen through.
“I felt blown away by all the considerations that was put into it. It’s not perfect recommendations, but it’s practical,” Stonestand said.
With 29 recommendations total between the jury and the coroner, Chief Coroner Clive Weighill said it’s the most he has ever seen from an inquest in Saskatchewan.
“We have really expanded the scope of an inquest in Saskatchewan and we have really pushed the boundaries,” Weighill said. “We saw healing here. We saw hugging and the ice got broken here for the community.”
The jury made 14 recommendations including establishing a national alerting system, more collaboration between James Smith Cree Nation and RCMP, and more support for offenders after they are released into a community.
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The inquest heard that in the correctional system and after his statutory release, Sanderson was passed between multiple institutions, parole officers, and program facilitators.
The jury recommended that an Indigenous offender have some sense of continuity in the form of an Elder to offer consistent support.
“The story of the offenders loses its meaning over time when you continue to talk to multiple people about it,” Stonestand said. “It is important to us that you keep that rapport. You can’t measure success in anything that you do if you are not consistently seeing the same support people in your life.”
The jury also suggested a full evaluation of the current programs offered on James Smith Cree Nation, stressing that there should be a more intense focus on addictions, substance abuse and domestic violence.
Presiding coroner Blaine Beaven made 15 recommendations for various institutions including Correctional Service Canada, specialized RCMP divisions and First Nation leadership.
Beaven suggested Correctional Service Canada advise First Nations if a member of their community has a warrant for their arrest, in addition to all Saskatchewan RCMP detachments — a theme present throughout the entirety of the inquest.
Beaven noted an offender will often return home upon the issuing of a warrant and engagement with James Smith Cree Nation leadership could help RCMP apprehend future offenders before another tragedy strikes.
Consistent with recommendations highlighting better communication, Beaven recommended Melfort RCMP and James Smith Cree Nation leadership meet regularly to discuss public safety, drug, and violence issues after hearing through testimony that approximately 20 per cent of service calls to the detachment are related to the First Nation.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said RCMP will be looking into the recommendations and work hard to implement what is possible.
Darryl Burns, who was standing for his late sister in the inquest, said while he is satisfied with all the recommendations and is left feeling hopeful, one key issue wasn’t addressed.
“None of the recommendations went onto the residential schools and the impacts,” Burns said. “If you look at our history and everything that has happened to our Native people, it all stems from the residential schools.”
Chief Coroner Weighill said the coroner’s service will be sending the recommendations to all the named agencies and it is up to them to decide whether they will be implemented.
“No system is perfect,” Stonestand said. “Every system needed a recommendation. Every system needs change and that includes our systems and our people.”
According to the coroner’s service, agencies typically give a response to inquest recommendations within three months.
“Everything can look good on paper but what we need to see is the action in our agencies and in our communities,” Stonestand said.
“A lot of these issues can start at our kitchen tables. Go back home to your homes and communities and talk to your friends and relatives about these issues that impact all of us.”
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