Policing, Corrections and Safety minister discusses in-custody Prince Albert deaths with Saskatchewan Police Commission

Herald file photo

The FSIN and PAGC have called for an intervention and review from the provincial government following a third in-custody death involving the Prince Albert Police Service.

The FSN and PAGC released a joint statement on Friday expressing their concern after another person died while in Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) custody. This is the third such death in the last month.

The statement called for an intervention and review by the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety. In response on Friday, Minister Christine Tell said she’s had discussions with the Saskatchewan Police Commission about the recent deaths. She expects the Commission to conduct 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,” she said.

Independent investigations into all three deaths are already underway. Tell said the ministry has no plans to intervene while those investigations are underway.

“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,” Tell said. “It would not be appropriate or helpful for government to interfere in these investigations.”

The joint FISN-PAGC statement also calls for a review of how the SHA oversees people with drug and alcohol addictions or underlying medical conditions who are police custody. When contacted, the SHA emailed a response saying they were aware of the recent deaths in police custody, and would assist with any investigation if requested.

The SHA can and does conduct critical incident reviews into deaths related to their health care services. However, the organization says its role within police cells is limited, with onsite healthcare being provided through paramedics contracted from outside organizations

“We will assist in providing any information requested by the coroners service or police services related to this role,” the email reads. “SHA is committed to continuing to work to build strong relationships with both FSIN and PAGC.”

Friday’s statement marked the second time in less than a month that the PAGC has voiced concerns about how suspects are treated while in police custody. They called for a meeting with police leaders following deaths on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12.

“This latest loss of life is very troubling, since we raised these concerns just over a week ago,” PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said in a press release on Friday. “It is clear that recommendations from past public inquests have not been taken seriously by neither the PAPS or the SHA.

“We will not wait two years or more for more recommendations from yet another public inquiry. As we can see, time is not on our side—drastic changes need to happen now.”

FSIN vice-chief Dutch Lerat said the recent in-custody deaths have raised serious questions about the competence of the Prince Albert Police Service, and that deserves an investigation. He also said there isn’t enough transparency and accountability when in-custody deaths are investigated.

“The police service is not being open about these incidents,” Lerat said in a media release. “The victims’ families and communities deserve answers.”

The Prince Albert Police Service released a statement on Wednesday acknowledging there were many questions and concerns following the third in-custody death on Sunday, Nov. 7. They asked the public for patience as investigators determine what happened.

“The very thorough investigative process that follows each in-custody death can be lengthy – often taking months or even years – and our organization recognizes the strain that can result from such investigations and the impact that these investigations can have on trust and relationships within the community,” the statement reads.

“Each of these incidents has its own set of individual facts and as an organization, we support a thorough and complete investigation by outside, independent police agencies with public oversight from independent observers. The Prince Albert Police Service has had discussions with community leaders in recent weeks to address concerns and questions and is committed to continued dialogue on policies and procedures that impact the health and safety of the public and those who come into our custody.”

The third death involved a 33-year-old man who was arrested on outstanding warrants on the afternoon of Nov. 7. He was found unresponsive in police cells later that night, and pronounced dead at Victoria Hospital.