Former police watchdog questions Sask. Justice approach in Myles Sanderson death investigation

A veteran Ontario lawyer who provided oversight on deaths in police custody is skeptical about the Saskatchewan investigation into Myles Sanderson's death.

Saskatoon police will take lead in examining in-custody death of mass murder suspect

A blurry cellphone photo shows multiple police officers standing behind a man who is pressed up against an RCMP vehicle and has his hands behind his back.
Myles Sanderson shown under arrest moments after RCMP forced his stolen truck off the highway. He died a short time later. (Dabber Gamble/Facebook)

A veteran Ontario lawyer is questioning how the in-custody death of accused killer Myles Sanderson will be investigated.

At issue: the fact that Saskatoon police will be leading the probe while Saskatchewan's fledgling Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), the independent, civilian-led unit responsible for investigating serious incidents involving police officers in Saskatchewan, will only have an observational capacity.

"The Cadillac version is to have a completely independent investigation, including independent investigators without having the police involved," Ian Scott said in an interview.

Scott headed the Special Investigation Unit in Ontario from 2008 to 2013. It's a civilian agency charged with investigating police in incidents of serious injury, death, the discharge of a firearm at a person or an allegation of sexual assault.

Myles Sanderson, 32, died shortly after getting arrested by RCMP north of Saskatoon on Sept. 7. He was the main suspect in a stabbing rampage on James Smith Cree Nation that left 10 people dead and 18 wounded over the Labour Day weekend.

In a news release on Sept. 8, the Saskatoon Police Service said its major crimes section would be leading the investigation into Sanderson's death. The release said it would be working "in co-operation" with SIRT.

SIRT's role is the source of Scott's skepticism.

It will be observing the investigation, not examining elements independently, "so it's bound to affect anybody's analysis of independence to merely put these investigators in an observing category," he said. "I mean, it's better than nothing, but there's still a long way to go." 

SIRT still recruiting staff

The Saskatoon police news release said the investigative findings will be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

In an email Thursday, Justice officials provided some detail on SIRT's current status.

"A civilian Executive Director was appointed in June 2021 to lead the Public Complaints Commission and the SIRT. The SIRT also employs two investigators. The SIRT is currently recruiting investigators and developing its operational capacity to ensure that future SIRT operations are conducted according to the highest investigative standards," it said.

"Currently, SIRT is providing civilian oversight to the investigations of serious incidents by acting as an independent observer in those investigations."

The agency is still building its staff, the email continues, and "SIRT is currently recruiting investigators and developing its operational capacity."

The government had said SIRT would be operational in the fall of 2021. In November, when it still wasn't up and running, the former justice minister said it would be operational by the end of 2021, but it didn't launch. 

Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre said in July that the government is working to get the program launched, although she wasn't able to answer when SIRT would be operational or how many roles still needed to be filled 

"As soon as as we have everything in place that we need in light of of staffing and other challenges, and getting the right people for what will be a very important role for that person and others involved in SIRT, we will go ahead as planned," she said at the time. 

A government spokesperson said in an email in July that the team is "engaging with police agencies to take on an oversight role in serious incidents" and that SIRT is currently recruiting investigators and "developing its operational capacity."


Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.