A look back at police watchdog’s first year operating in Saskatchewan

Submitted photo. Gregory Gudelot will be the first executive director of Saskatchewan’s newly created Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT).

by Angela Amato

Regina Leader-Post

Within its first 12 months of operation, Saskatchewan’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) worked on 13 cases as of Dec. 21, investigating deaths and assaults that may have occurred due to police wrongdoing.

The police watchdog came into full force on Jan. 1, 2023 after The Police (Serious Incident Response Team) Amendment Act passed in 2021. SIRT serves as an independent, civilian-led unit responsible for investigating serious incidents involving police officers throughout the province. Investigations are set into motion when a person suffers a serious injury or death, either in police custody, as a result of an officer’s action, or in relation to an allegation of sexual assault or interpersonal violence.

SIRT investigations apply to municipal police officers, RCMP operating in Saskatchewan, and certain prescribed classes of special constables such as Highway Traffic Patrol and Conservation Officers.

Previously, police agencies were tasked with investigating each other when serious incidents occurred. Those investigations were then reviewed by an independent observer.

Gregory Gudelot, former assistant director of SIRT in Alberta, was brought on to lead the Saskatchewan team as executive director in 2021.

Of the 13 incidents that triggered an investigation over the past year, none have been concluded and there have been no resulting charges or repercussions in relation to any of the occurrences. Investigations involve the Saskatchewan RCMP (four), but include matters that occurred with the Prince Albert Police Service (three), Regina Police Service (two), Saskatoon Police Service (two), and the Estevan Police Service (one).

Several other provinces have had civilian-led police oversight implemented for years. A report by The Canadian Press in 2020 revealed that only 10 per cent of investigations result in charges against officers.

Four out of the six deaths that occurred during interaction with police happened while an individual was in custody. According to preliminary investigations as outlined in SIRT press releases, three individuals were found in their cells unresponsive or in medical distress. Each individual was treated by EMS and declared deceased in hospital.

One of the in-custody deaths resulted in the appointment of an Indigenous observer to the SIRT team.

Three deaths occurred due to use of guns. The most recent was on Dec. 19 in Red Earth Cree Nation. Carrot River RCMP officers responded to a report of a firearm discharge around 3:40 a.m. Two individuals were located and apprehended to determine their involvement.

A third individual, a 25-year-old male identified as being involved, was located nearby. Upon arriving at the scene, a firearm was discharged at RCMP patrol vehicles. RCMP officers exited their vehicles and an altercation occurred between the male and the officers. Firearms were discharged during the altercation; both the adult male and one of the responding officers sustained injuries as a result.

The adult male, from Red Earth Cree Nation, was later pronounced deceased by EMS at the scene. The officer’s injuries were described as non-life-threatening.

– with files from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix