Two public inquiries are being conducted in connection with deadly attacks in Saskatchewan that sent shockwaves across the country.
The chief coroner in Canada’s Saskatchewan province has announced plans to conduct two public inquiries earlier this month into a stabbing spree that killed 12 people, including the alleged attacker, and injured over a dozen others.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Clive Weighill of the Saskatchewan Coroners Service said an inquest would be held into the deaths of 11 people killed September 4 on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon.
The attacks on the Indigenous community and neighboring village, about 320 km (200 miles) north of Saskatchewan’s capital Regina, marked one of the deadliest incidents of mass violence in Canadian history.
A separate investigation is being launched into the death of prime suspect Myles Sanderson, who died in police custody after a days-long manhunt, Weighill said.
“The events that have occurred require a methodical and complete investigation,” he told reporters.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer in Saskatchewan told reporters on September 7 that Sanderson fell into “medical distress” shortly after officers arrested him following a freeway chase.
However, police have not released any further information about the exact circumstances of his death, despite questions from Canadian media and other observers.
Weighill said Wednesday that “police and the coroner are in the early stages of their investigation” — a process he said includes toxicology results, pathology and autopsy results, and the completion of the police investigation, among other things.
“As you understand, an investigation cannot proceed until the investigation is complete,” Weighill said, adding that the investigations could take place in late spring or early summer of 2023.
He said the inquiries – in which evidence of what happened is presented to a jury, which can then make recommendations – will be open to the public and the media. “It is my intention that the jury consists entirely of indigenous people,” he said.
Meanwhile, the James Smith Cree Nation, an indigenous community of about 1,900 people who live on the reservation, continue to grapple with the attacks.
“Where to start? Or where to start? I’ve been thinking for the past few days, no words can express the feelings we’re going through,” Cree Nation Chief James Smith Wally Burns told reporters earlier this month.
Ten local residents were found dead, including Sanderson’s brother Damien, previously wanted by police as a suspect in the stabbing and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Spree. Another person was killed in Weldon.
Asked Wednesday whether Damien Sanderson was now considered a victim now that he was included in the investigation into the 11 deaths on Sept. 4, Weighill said the coroner’s office “didn’t jump at all.”
“We believe everything that happened happened on September 4th, so as a coroner, I’m allowed to consolidate all of these multiple deaths into a single inquest,” he said.
Canadian media reported that Myles Sanderson had a history of violence, which often got worse when intoxicated.
In May he was ruled “unlawfully at large” after failing to meet with his parole officer following a statutory parole. The Canadian government has announced that there will be an independent investigation into this parole decision.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Weighill said the preliminary results of Myles Sanderson’s autopsy found “no blunt trauma that caused his death.”
“That’s very, very preliminary, but that’s the best I can give you right now,” the chief coroner said. “It shows that there is no external pressure that would have caused his death.”