PAGC calls for transparency in wake of in custody deaths

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte -- Herald file photo.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is calling for transparency and accountability from the Prince Albert Police Service after two in custody deaths occurred earlier in October.

Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie and Vice Chief Christopher Jobb spoke to the media in a Zoom call on Wednesday. All three expressed their condolences to the families of the two mean who died, and said the PAGC was concerned on behalf of Prince Albert’s Indigenous population.

“We have to address it,” Hardlotte said. “(We have to) come up up with a better plan to address this sad situation around these people dying.”

Jobb explained that the PAGC represents a large percentage of people in the city who he feels have been put on the back burner.

“We have seen the history and we need to move forward,” Jobb said. “How do we move forward? By working collectively and being transparent and accountable, because every life matters.”

“We have had incidents in PA over the last number of years, (and) there are probably others we don’t know about,” Tsannie added. “The action items, the follow ups, the recommendations that are being put forward, I am not sure if any of them are being implemented.”

The Prince Albert Police have not released the identities of the two men. Hardlotte confirmed that the family of one man was in contact with them.

Police continue to investigate one death with oversight by an independent observer, while the other is under investigation by the RCMP. The PAGC said it hopes PAPS conducts their operations in a manner that displays care and compassion for the vulnerable in the community.

“It is our inherent and Treaty right to have a justice system that represents our interests and recognizes that our challenges are a result of historic traumas,” Hardlotte said.

“It is also imperative that the police service goes above and beyond any recommendations to ensure the safety of those who are in their custody. We plan on closely following the processes in place to investigate these in-custody deaths, and we need assurances that a proper inquiry is done.”

The first death involved a 29-year-old man who went into medical distress at Victoria Hospital. Police were called to the scene after 3 a.m. on Oct. 5 for a reported disturbance. The man was later pronounced deceased in hospital October 12, 2021. While he was in police custody for a brief period of time, he never left the hospital. Police are treating this investigation as an in-custody death.

The second death involved a 35-year-old man who was arrested on Oct. 8. He was found unresponsive in his police cell just after 7 p.m. on Oct. 11. He was transported to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. RCMP are investigating.

PAPS said in a media statement later in the day that they will continue to discuss public safety with their community partners.

“The police service remains open to continued discussions and opportunities for enhanced engagement on policies and issues affecting vulnerable residents in our community,” the statement reads.

“The police service continues to be accountable and transparent, and has improved oversight and supervision in our detention area, enhanced training for staff, and implemented programs aimed at better supporting vulnerable members of our community. This includes 24/7 supervision of our detention area to ensure professional management of staffing and priorities.”

The police are actively working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and Parkland Ambulance on a paramedic pilot program which was announced earlier this year. In the program paramedics are on site in the PAPS detention area seven days a week from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.

“This new program supports our organization in providing a more comprehensive approach to the supervision and safety of those in custody and allows for a more integrated approach to the health and wellbeing of all residents.”

The police service also supports the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which connects vulnerable residents with services and social supports in the community; and participates in the HUB model, in which representatives from various support agencies in the community are working together to address public safety concerns.