By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On November 8, 2021 the Prince Albert Police Department (PAPS) announced their third in-custody death within the span of a month.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and the Prince Alberta Grand Council (PAGC) have released a statement regarding the deaths, calling for an immediate intervention of PAPS and a review of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
“Our First Nations leadership is deeply concerned for the safety of our vulnerable people. These in-custody deaths have raised serious concerns regarding the competence of the Prince Alberta Police Service and their ability to serve the broader community in general,” said FSIN Vice Chief Dutch Lerat.
“Equally concerning is the lack of transparency and public accountability. The police service is not being open about these incidents and the victims’ families and communities deserve answers.”
Both the FSIN and the PAGC have called on Saskatchewan Police Commission and Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christin Tell to address the situation.
The organizations are also questioning SHA over their responsibility to ensure that required oversight is provided to those in-custody who suffer from drug and/or alcohol addictions, as well as those with underlying health conditions.
PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said, “The latest loss of life is very troubling since we raised these concerns just over a week ago. It is clear that recommendations from past public inquests have not been taken seriously by neither the PAPS nor the SHA.”
“We will not wait two years or more for more recommendations from yet another inquiry. As we can see, time is not on our side — drastic changes need to happen now.”
The latest death that occurred in PAPS custody was of a 33-year-old man on Nov 9. The previous two deaths happened within days of each other in mid-October.
The identities of the deceased have not been released, nor the circumstances of their deaths.
PAPS released a statement about the deaths, saying, “Each is a tragedy for our community and a devastating loss for families who have lost loved ones.”
“As a police service, we recognize there are many questions and we acknowledge concerns from community leaders, residents, and advocacy groups about safety, supervision, and oversight in police cells.”
The Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service and independent observers from the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety are currently investigating the incidents. However, PAPS released a statement discussing the possible length of the investigative process, which often takes months or even years.
Minister Christine Tell offered condolences in a statement and acknowledged the investigation’s length, “While investigations like this often take longer than many would like, this time is necessary to ensure that officials can complete as fulsome a review of the circumstances as possible. It would not be appropriate or helpful for government to interfere in these investigations.”
“I understand the Commission will be conducting a review of policies and standards related to the care of people in custody. The goal of this review will be to ensure Saskatchewan police services maintain and follow best practices when they are required to hold people in custody.”