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Home News First Nations leaders demand P.A. police firings, investigation following child’s homicide

First Nations leaders demand P.A. police firings, investigation following child’s homicide

First Nations leaders demand P.A. police firings, investigation following child’s homicide
The Prince Albert Police Service. -- Herald file photo.

Thia James

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Indigenous leaders calling on the Saskatchewan government to step in and investigate Prince Albert city police actions after the death of a 13-month old boy say the incident is evidence of systemic racism.

 On Wednesday, leaders of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Prince Albert Grand Council and Thunderchild First Nation jointly called for the immediate firings of two police officers, plus a sergeant and the force’s chief, Jonathan Bergen, and for a coroner’s inquest to be held in the Feb. 10 death of Tanner Brass.

The organizations on Wednesday described the toddler’s death as preventable.

“No mother should ever have to go through this. No mother should have to feel this pain,” said Kyla Frenchman, Tanner’s mother, in a statement released at the same time a media conference was held in Saskatoon.

“He was such a happy baby, who was always smiling. He was adorable and had big squishy cheeks. We used to watch Blue’s Clues together and laugh.”

Frenchman, with her sister by her side, did not speak at the media conference. They sat quietly listening to leaders speak, with a photo of mother and child on the table in front of them.

The child’s father, Kaij Brass, is charged with second-degree murder in his death.

According to information released previously by Prince Albert police, officers went to a home in the 200 block of 23rd Street West at 5:44 a.m. on Feb. 10 after receiving a complaint about a family dispute. Police said one person was taken to police cells at that time.

Just before 11 a.m. that morning, police were called back to the same home for a report of a homicide involving a child. Arriving officers found a 13-month-old who had died, the release said.

Police said they arrested Kaij Brass at the home.

The FSIN said Wednesday that through its own investigation, it found “grave concerns regarding gross negligence and/or criminal negligence and systemic racism,” including police taking Frenchman — who was leaving a situation involving domestic violence — into custody and ignoring her pleas for help.

The FSIN said a check on the child’s welfare was not performed and the Ministry of Social Services was not brought in to protect him.

FSIN Second Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat said Frenchman was sober when police took her into custody, but police assumed she was intoxicated. He said her plea for her baby’s safety was also ignored while she was held in the cellblock.

“The chief of police made a loud and clear statement, as he kept these officers at work,” Lerat said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Bergen held an online media conference. He said he “immediately” launched an investigation into the force’s response to the initial call for service after the child’s death.

After obtaining more information, he said he determined they needed a change to the oversight and management structure to ensure practices are “aligned” with policy and legislation. A sergeant was moved into a new role that provides oversight of the patrol section.

“I do know that with that strain in the high calls for service the extent to which the response is, is not always what the community needs. And so as we look at intimate partner violence and our response as a police service to it, we know that there’s a number of areas where we need to improve and that’s what we’re focusing on with the immediate structure change that has occurred,” he said.

Bergen said the two officers who responded to the initial calls were “junior” officers with less than five years of combined experience.

Surveillance footage from the police station and in-car cameras have been shared with the Public Complaints Commission.

A statement from the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said the provincial coroner will make a decision about an inquest after it receives the results of the investigation, and the Saskatchewan Police Commission will contact the FSIN and Prince Albert police for information.

The Prince Albert police board issued a statement supporting the independent PCC investigation.

PAGC Vice-Chief Chris Jobb said he was reminded of the trial of Gerald Stanley, who was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter in the 2016 death of Colten Boushie of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. There is no justice for Indigenous peoples, he said.

An independent investigation by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission into the RCMP’s handling of Boushie’s death investigation in part found that the way his mother, Debbie Baptiste, was treated — including asking her about her sobriety — was so insensitive it was discriminatory.

When asked if the CRCC’s recommendations from that investigation should be taken into consideration, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said some of it should, but there is room for improvement and there must be First Nations involvement and input from start to finish.

In the FSIN media release, he expressed “zero” confidence in the Prince Albert Police Service.

“The public keeps saying that racism doesn’t exist. This is a prime example of exactly what systemic racism looks like embedded within a justice system that is supposed to serve and protect,” he said in the statement.

tjames@postmedia.com