FSIN, PAGC urge province to act after third Prince Albert in-custody death

·2 min read

The death of a third man while in Prince Albert police custody triggered calls from First Nations organizations for the provincial government to intervene.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) jointly urged the Saskatchewan Police Commission and Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell to take action.

"These in-custody deaths have raised serious concerns regarding the competence of the Prince Albert Police Service and their ability to serve the broader community in general," FSIN Vice Chief Dutch Lerat said.

Lerat said the police department's handling of the deaths has lacked transparency and public accountability.

A 33-year-old man was found unresponsive in his cell and later pronounced dead at Victoria Hospital on Nov. 7. The incident is under investigation as the third in-custody death in recent weeks.

None of the men — including a 35-year-old and a 29-year-old, who died in October — has been publicly identified.

The province has assigned an independent observer to each of the investigations, while the provincial coroner's office conducts its own investigations, Tell said in a prepared statement.

They can be lengthy, but "it would not be appropriate or helpful for government to interfere in these investigations," she said.

Tell said she has discussed the deaths with the Saskatchewan Police Commission, which "will be conducting 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."

The joint PAGC and FSIN statement also argued for a review of the Saskatchewan Health Authority over its "responsibility to ensure that required oversight is provided to those in police custody who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions or other underlying medical conditions."

An SHA spokeswoman said the "SHA’s role regarding oversight within police cells is limited to provision of health care through contracted services for a dedicated paramedic on-site."

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte previously asked to meet with Prince Albert police to discuss the deaths and prevent any further loss of life.

A Prince Albert police spokeswoman declined to comment.

A statement after the third death acknowledged "the strain that can result from such investigations and the impact that these investigations can have on trust and relationships within the community."

It added the police force has recently met with community leaders and is reviewing recommendations from previous investigations.

In a prepared statement, Hardlotte said recent events show that past recommendations haven't adequately prevented in-custody deaths.

"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."

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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