After listening to more than two weeks of testimony, the jury at the coroner’s inquest into the stabbing massacre at James Smith Cree Nation is now deliberating.
6 jurors tasked with making recommendations to prevent similar tragedies
Pratyush Dayal · CBC News
· Posted: Jan 30, 2024 6:00 AM EST | Last Updated: 17 minutes ago
People enter the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort, Sask., where the coroner’s inquest into the mass stabbing at James Smith Cree Nation and neighbouring Weldon has been held for the past two weeks. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)After listening to more than two weeks of testimony, the jury at the coroner’s inquest into the stabbing massacre at James Smith Cree Nation is now deliberating.
The inquest, which began on Jan. 15 in Melfort, Sask., has been examining the events of Sept. 4, 2022, when Myles Sanderson killed 11 people — 10 from James Smith and one from the neighbouring village of Weldon.
During the past two weeks, jurors have heard from 30 witnesses including RCMP officers, a psychologist, forensic pathologists, Sanderson’s former partner and officials from the Parole Board of Canada.
Coroner Blaine Beaven charged the members of the jury Tuesday morning before sending them to work on their findings and recommendations.
Beaven noted the jury has been attentive and engaged, and advised them to look at the evidence and not refer to anything else, including media reports.
“Refer to evidence as you have heard,” Beaven told the jury.
WATCH | James Smith Cree Nation stabbing victim says she attended inquest to see change:
James Smith Cree Nation stabbing victim says she attended inquest to see changeJoyce Burns and her husband Earl were brutally assaulted in their family home on James Smith Cree Nation, Sask., during the September long weekend. Earl didn’t survive.
Beaven said jurors must weigh both the credibility and reliability of what they heard.
“Credibility is whether or not the witness is telling the truth, but reliability is whether the evidence the witness shared is accurate and makes sense,” he said.
“Lack of either reliability or credibility can render the evidence to be invalid.… It will be up to you the way you apply the evidence.”
Beaven singled out a specific chunk of testimony. Skye Sanderson, the wife of Myles Sanderson’s brother, Damien, told the inquest that she called RCMP on Sept. 4, 2022. Beaven said RCMP couldn’t find those call details.
“There are gaps in the evidence. There are things we don’t know that we may never know,” he told the jury. “Gaps in evidence can also play a role in your finding.”
Suggestions for recommendationsBeaven informed the jury that they can factor in direct, substantial and hearsay evidence.
“Keep in mind this is not a trial. You are not determining guilt or innocence,” he said.
As a part of their findings, the jurors are to prepare a report for each deceased, identifying the location, time and cause of death by referring to each autopsy report. Each of the victims died at James Smith Cree Nation, aside from Wesley Patterson, who died in Weldon, Sask.
The jury can make as many recommendations as they wish, or no recommendations at all.
“Your recommendations will only have value if they are practical, implementable, lawful and based on the evidence,” he said.
For example, Beaven said recommendations on any drug usage while an offender is incarcerated would not be valid, as evidence suggested Myles Sanderson was not using any while he was incarcerated.
Beaven said the jury’s recommendations should be addressed to specific organizations and people that would be responsible for implementing them.
“The word similar deaths is of importance here. You are not specifically looking to make recommendations that will prevent a mass homicide,” he said.
“But you can make recommendations that prevent death. For example, a stabbing incident in a remote community.”
Beaven said he will meet with lawyers in camera once a draft of recommendations is available to discuss how they are worded. Then, the coroner may make suggestions to the jury regarding wording, “so they can be more effective.”
A second public inquest is scheduled to begin on Feb. 26 in Saskatoon and examine the death of Myles Sanderson. He died in custody on Sept. 7, 2022.
WATCH | More than two weeks of proceedings at James Smith inquest set to conclude:
Jury expected to be charged with making recommendations as mass stabbing inquest wrapsThe inquest into the mass stabbings at James Smith Cree Nation is coming to a close. The jury is expected to be charged with making recommendations to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. The six jurors tasked with that will draw from about 30 witnessess over the past two weeks along with evidence. CBC’s Kendall Latimer has more
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
Pratyush Dayal covers climate change, immigration and race and gender issues among general news for CBC News in Saskatchewan. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Tyee. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from UBC and can be reached at email@example.com
Follow Pratyush Dayal on XFollow Pratyush Dayal on Instagram