Coroner’s Office to hold two inquests after investigation into mass stabbing completed

The Saskatchewan Coroner’s Office says they plan to hold two inquests related to the mass stabbing that occurred in James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon.

A six person jury will hear evidence about the deaths of 11 people on James Smith and in Weldon, including Damien Sanderson, from the mass stabbing on Sept. 4. There will also be a separate inquest into the death of Myles Sanderson, who died shortly after being arrested on Sept. 7.

Chief Coroner Clive Weighill said they haven’t determined a location for the inquests, but Prince Albert, Melfort, and James Smith Cree Nation are all being considered.

“The idea of an inquest is to be local to the people that it affects,” Weighill told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday. “They get to hear the facts, (and) the decision is made from there.”

Inquests are not held to determine guilt or innocence, but are conducted to establish the events leading up to a death, and the manner and medical cause of death.

Weighill said the six-person jury will be made up entirely of Indigenous people, something the province has done before, most recently during an inquest in Black Lake three years ago.

“This happened on a First Nation,” Weighill said when asked why they wanted an entirely Indigenous jury. “It impacted the First Nation community wholly, and I believe that to make sure the people on that First Nation First Nation feel comfortable with the people who are going to hear the results.”

The Coroner’s Office is still waiting on a number of reports, including toxicology, pathology, and autopsy results that won’t be available for at least three to four months. Weighill said they hope to hold the inquest in late spring or early summer 2023, but would move that timeline forward if possible.

“The last thing we want is to give out some preliminary information, and then witnesses at the inquest give different information, and now we’ve got a real quagmire about what did happen,” he explained. “It’s prudent to make sure we have all the information, everything is gathered in a proper form, and then presented at an inquest.

“We’re going to work as quickly as we can. I’ve given you a timeframe that’s probably the absolute longest it will take. If we can get it in a shorter timeframe, then we will do that.”

Weighill acknowledged that members of the public were still very interested in the case, and wanted to see the investigation concluded as quickly as possible. He told reporters that preliminary evidence from the autopsy of Myles Sanderson showed no signs of blunt force trauma, but otherwise refused to give any more details.

“This is very, very preliminary, but that’s the best I can give you right now,” he said.

Weighill also refused to say whether the Coroner’s Office considers Damien Sanderson to an accomplice or a victim to his brother.

“We’ve made to leapt to that at all,” he said when asked if Coroner’s considered Damien to be innocent.

Preliminary findings from the investigation will be made available to the families of the victims before the start of the inquest.

Weighill said the investigation is very complex because there are so many victims and so many families involved. On Wednesday, he asked the public for patience.

“It’s certainly a large complex investigation that’s going to take many, many hours to put the pieces together, and of course the recording and the documenting afterwards is huge,” he said. “I think afterwards people see the police and the coroners going to a scene and it’s assumed that we can take care of all that very quickly because now we’ve seen the scene and we can come to our conclusions, but there’s a lot of work that has to be done.”

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