RCMP commander reflects on Saskatchewan stabbings and moves forward

Monday, September 4 will be a dark day for many in Saskatchewan as it marks the anniversary of the James Smith Cree Nation stabbings that left 11 dead and 17 injured.

Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore is the commanding officer of the Saskatchewan RCMP and said the ripple effects the stabbings have had on the RCMP have been significant.

“When you look at how this incident unfolded and the chaos that was present,” Blackmore said.

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She said some RCMP officers had been traumatized by the stabbings, but added that it was important to learn from incidents like this.

Blackmore said the initial call was about a stabbing incident, saying while it wasn’t a routine call, it was an issue they believed two RCMP members could handle.

“And then the calls started coming in, and more and more, and again and again, and there are people who are injured, people who have died, people in the community who are terrified. »

She said more than 500 officers from across the country contributed to the initial police response. 369 were from Saskatchewan.

Blackmore said there was still trauma and anxiety a*sociated with receiving a call to the Cree Nation from James Smith now.

“It certainly brings that trauma in the community to the fore very quickly. There is always a concern for public safety when someone makes threats anywhere, but when there are people who have experienced this trauma, the scenario is different.

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Blackmore said they were also looking at ways to improve matters and that an independent review by an officer would take place some time after the coroner’s inquests.

“That was complemented by an outdoor division. The RCMP in Alberta ran this for us, and eventually we will make this information public.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service is conducting two separate inquests, one into the deaths of the 11 victims and the other into the death of Myles Sanderson, the man who k**led and injured so many people.

PKBNEWS contacted the Coroners Service for an interview, but instead received dates and information.

The inquest into the 11 Cree Nation victims of James Smith and Weldon is scheduled to be held Jan. 15-26 at the Kerry Vickar Center in Melfort.

The Coroners Service said it has met with family members of the victims and First Nation leaders, adding that a family liaison consultant will work with the families over the fall to prepare them for the inquest. .

“An investigation into Myles Sanderson will take place separately. As he died in custody, a mandatory inquest is required. His inquest will take place in Saskatoon after the larger inquest into the victims’ deaths. Although timelines are still being finalized, we expect the inquest into Sanderson’s death to take place in February or March 2024,” the coroners’ service said.

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Inquests were originally scheduled for the spring or summer of 2023, but Chief Coroner Clive Weighill pointed out as early as February that the investigation was very complex and that the RCMP was still receiving new information at that time.

When asked if the First Nation is safer today than it was a year ago, Blackmore said they now have a security team that can relay information to officers. .

She added that the RCMP in the area is at Melfort Detachment and covers a wide geographic area.

“Having these security resources has been a very positive addition to the response, as our members have a very good relationship with these security members.

She said it did not replace a police officer, but added that the security team were extra eyes and ears.

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“These are individuals who travel through the community and come from the community, which I think is an important element, because they know the individuals. »

She said it is important to understand this community and those who live there.

Blackmore said they are also making efforts to recruit more First Nations people into the RCMP, pointing out that this is an initiative that began in the province before the stabbings, but all elements of which were only implemented in September 2022.

“It’s been an absolutely incredibly successful initiative in that we’ve been able to reach people who otherwise might not have thought of policing as a career option.

She said those on the front lines doing the recruiting are Indigenous members, pointing out that one was part of an all-Indigenous troop in the early 2000s.

“One of the other recruiters, she’s fluent in Cree, so she’s very capable of understanding some of these challenges within our communities and talking about culture and understanding, and what that means.

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She added that the darkest history of the RCMP may make some First Nations people reluctant to join the organization.

“Everyone knows the history of the RCMP and their involvement in residential schools, those kinds of things, but sometimes I think it makes Aboriginal people a little hesitant, ‘is this an organization I want to be part of’ and when they can hear our members who are aboriginal themselves, they can relate to that experience.

Blackmore said they are looking to break down barriers in some of Saskatchewan’s most remote communities, adding that parts of the RCMP recruitment process can create additional challenges for members of those communities.

She said they currently have three Aboriginal recruiters.

“Those three people spoke to 172 potential candidates, and of those, 102 applied.”

Blackmore said these are significant numbers.

“They are positively changing the look of policing in this province so we can ensure they are more representative of the populations we police.

She said that due to the large aboriginal population in Saskatchewan, the RCMP does not currently consider them.

Even before the stabbings in the James Smith Cree Nation, there were calls for First Nations police services to be established on Saskatchewan reserves and across Canada, but those voices became even louder after the event of September 4, 2022.

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Drafts were created for a First Nations policing bill, but documents obtained under the Access to Information Act by The Canadian Press showed the drafts ran into some trouble. obstacles, one of the main being a disagreement between the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government when it was pa*sed. came to court.

Blackmore said it was frustrating to see such stumbles when it came to issues such as jurisdiction.

“Ultimately, the primary goal, and this cannot be compromised, is to provide the best possible policing services to our First Nations communities. »

She said achieving this required a commitment of resources and funding.

“I can tell you that we need additional resources if the RCMP is to continue to be the service provider. We need additional resources to ensure that we meet the mandate to provide not only responsive policing, but also proactive policing to our First Nations.

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She said many detachments face challenges of geography and isolation when it comes to some of Saskatchewan’s most remote communities.

When asked what kind of information people can expect to get from surveys, Blackmore didn’t reveal much, but said surveys can go into a lot of detail and added that they wanted to maintain the sanctity of it.

“So I think it will definitely provide some answers that maybe people feel like they haven’t gotten yet.”

A timeline of stabbings that took place in James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon was presented by the RCMP in late April, reviewing in a four-hour presentation in which Sanderson had raged from erratic manner.

Blackmore said the purpose of this timeline was to give victims, survivors and families as much information as possible that could be released without compromising investigations.

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She added that the RCMP was supposed to be transparent with the public, and had a duty to do so, but the timeline made more sense to those directly affected.

“For these families, it’s another level. This is a very personal event for them. They need some of these answers to help them in their own healing, and it’s really a big motivation to try to get as much information to them as soon as possible without jeopardizing coroners’ inquests.

Blackmore hopes that with so much interest in the incident, people will understand the impact of what happened.

“The impact on the community, on individuals and on the first responders, my members who have done an exceptional job responding to a very difficult time, there are also the paramedics and all these types of individuals who are affected by the chaotic situation. , and the traumatic situation they faced.

She said she was proud of the first responders who respond to these kinds of incidents, but emphasized that they are all human and that these events affect them equally.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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