‘We don’t feel safe:’ Protestors advocate for better treatment from Prince Albert police

Stephanie Sasakamoose, Boden Umpherville’s first cousin, holds up a sign during a protest outside the Prince Albert Police Service station on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. – Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Family and friends of Boden Umpherville want to keep his story alive.

Protestors gathered in Prince Albert’s Kinsmen Park on Friday evening before marching down Central Avenue to the police station, advocating for better treatment of Indigenous peoples.

They held up signs reading ‘stronger together,’ ‘help us, not hurt us,’ and ‘justice for Boden,’ along with a large banner with a photo of Umpherville in hospital.

“There’s been no accountability, no nothing. There’s been no apologies, anything like that, so how do we trust a system that can’t even say sorry?” questioned Chase Sinclair, a close friend of Umpherville who organized the walk.

“We’re not putting up with it anymore – we want compassion, we want care. We can’t send broken people through a broken system and expect them to be fixed.”

Marchers gather on the street outside the Prince Albert Police Service station to raise awareness for those who have died in police altercations. – Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Umpherville died of injuries sustained during his arrest on Apr. 1. According to his family, he had broken orbital bones on his face, a laceration above his eye that required 19 stitches, cuts, and multiple burns.

He was taken off of life support three weeks later.

The incident remains under investigation. According to a news release from the Saskatchewan Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), Umpherville was one of three people in a vehicle police pulled over. Although the car had been reported stolen, according to police, one of the people inside was the registered owner.

Prince Albert police used stun guns, collapsible batons and pepper spray during the arrest, according to SIRT.

Sinclair met with interim police Chief Patrick Nogier, Deputy Chief Farica Prince and an elder in July, a few weeks after he held a similar demonstration.

Nogier described the meeting as “respectful.”

“We’re going to have differing opinions on how things happened, why they happened and, at times, that’s the (important) part, is trying to get appreciation from both sides of the equation,” he said.

“It was an opportunity to kind of discuss the nature of the protest, a little bit about what do we really hope to accomplish? But at the end of the day, it’s just trying to get a better understanding of different perspectives.”

Since Umpherville’s arrest is still being investigated, Nogier said he couldn’t speak to specific details on why officers used that amount of force.

Since then, Sinclair has been joining forces with other loved ones who have died from police involvement. 

This includes family members of Saul Laliberte, one of three in-custody deaths that occurred within three weeks in 2021, along with John Gardiner, who was killed in January after being shot by police.

Protestors hold up a sign reading ‘Justice for John’ outside of the Prince Albert police station on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. John Gardiner was shot on South Industrial Drive in January. – Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Two police officers have recently been charged. Sgt. Tyson Morash is facing charges of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessities of life in Laliberte’s death. Just last week, the police service announced that another member was charged with three counts of common assault stemming from two incidents in July 2022.

“Since I started this, there was nothing like that. Everybody just took it,” said Sinclair about the charges.

“People didn’t know about the Public Complaints Commission or to go to the FSIN for help or support, so now that we’re making this move, it opens the door for other people to do the same.”

Another protestor, Margaret Mercredi, said she considered Umpherville her son.

“He would never harm another person. If he’d seen another person on the street that needed something, even if he had a sweater on his back, he’d give it to the next person. He was very generous,” she said, adding that the way he died has had lasting impacts on her.

“It left a very big dent in our family, and it’s been hard,” said Mercredi. “That relationship, even just seeing the cops, we don’t feel safe.”

Ultimately, said Sinclair, families want recognition that the actions of police have taken lives.

“Why not take the initiative to change the narrative? Why are you still backing this them vs. us relationship? It’s just as easy as a handshake or sending off flowers to my auntie,” he said.

“That’s human.”