What will the James Smith Cree Nation mass stabbing inquest look like?

The public inquest into the James Smith Cree Nation mass stabbing is expected to hear from around 30 witnesses.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix Staff

The story of each victim in the James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon mass stabbing will be heard in what is expected to be the most complex inquest ever held in the province, Saskatchewan’s chief coroner says.

The public inquest into the deaths of 11 people during the Sept. 4, 2022 mass stabbing is set to begin Monday, with two weeks set aside for testimony.

“I think one of the most important parts is to honour those who died and tell their story,” Chief Coroner Clive Weighill said in a recent interview.

Here are a few things to watch over the course of the inquest:

A tragedy

Myles Sanderson, 32, was identified by RCMP as the sole killer. He was arrested Sept. 7, 2022 at the end of a three-day manhunt and died while in police custody.

In addition to the 11 people killed, 17 others were injured.

The inquest is scheduled to run from Jan. 15 to 26, and hear from around 30 witnesses. If additional time is needed, the week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 has also been reserved.

A separate inquest into Sanderson’s death is scheduled in Saskatoon from Feb. 26 to March 1.

Vanessa Burns said in a recent interview that the inquest will be difficult for her and her family, but that the process is important for healing. Her father, Earl Burns Sr., was one of the people killed. Her former partner was Myles Sanderson, who she said assaulted her on the Friday before the tragedy, and tried to run her over with her vehicle.

“I don’t think a lot of us are going to start our healing journeys until we’ve got all our facts (about) our loved ones,” she said.

Unique inquest

The Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort, approximately 40 kilometres from James Smith Cree Nation, was selected as the venue because it has a massive auditorium that can accommodate the families.

A wellness area will be set up for anyone in need of support. Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) will also provide wellness staff during the inquest.

Media rooms, a witness room and a live feed into the gymnasium with overflow seating will be set up. Elders have also been consulted on cultural components.

Fact-finding mission

Because there will be no criminal trial to make public what happened that day, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service called the inquest to provide information about the circumstances of the deaths.

Prior to these proceedings, the largest inquest in the province was held in 2014 to examine the 2010 deaths of three people at a long-term care home in Humboldt. Weighill said there was so much information in connection with the James Smith-Weldon case, a data warehouse had to be built to electronically store thousands of records.

The fact-finding — not fault-finding — inquest establishes when and how someone died, and may also identify and educate the public about dangerous conditions or practices. A jury can make non-binding recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths.

Lawyer Blaine R. Beaven is set to preside as coroner.

Seeking more information

A lawyer representing James Smith Cree Nation said recently that an investigation into the statutory release of Myles Sanderson should be made public before the inquest.

Sanderson, who had a record of violent assaults, had received statutory release earlier that year. The killings raised questions about why he was released and how he managed to remain free in the months leading up to the attacks.

Iulia Pescarus Popa with the Parole Board of Canada said in an email that the results of the investigation into Sanderson’s release will not yet be made public so as to not interfere with the inquest.

“If the mandate of the inquest is fact finding and really making sure we get to the bottom of what happened and then come up with recommendations, it would be in the interest of all parties to make sure that we have all of the relevant information,” said Keith Brown, the lawyer representing the First Nation in the inquests.


Thomas Burns, 23; Carol Burns, 46; Gregory “Jones” Burns, 28; Bonnie Burns, 48; Lydia Gloria Burns, 61; Earl Burns, 66; Lana Head, 49; Christian Head, 54; Robert Sanderson, 49; Wesley Petterson, 78; Damien Sanderson, 31.

— With Postmedia files from Thia James and Alec Salloum, and Canadian Press files from Kelly Geraldine Malone, Jeremy Simes and Stephanie Taylor