'I don't feel safe anymore': Most Sask. gang killings happen outside major cities
Jocelyn Sandfly says gang activity increasing on her reserve following her brother's death
Jocelyn Sandfly remembers the sound of the bullet that killed her brother. The shot rang out through the night air on her small northern reserve.
"I knew they had shot somebody. You just know," Sandfly recalled.
"When you go hunting and you just miss something — it echoes, right? This shot sounded different. I knew that somebody got shot."
Jordan Sandfly was shot in the head, not far from his sister's house. His body was left near an abandoned truck on a rural road.
Court records make no mention of gangs, but Jocelyn Sandfly still believes, even a year after her brother's killing, that the person who killed him was a gang member.
"I believe this was gang related," Sandfly said, speaking from her home on the Big Island Lake Cree Nation.
Gangs not only an urban issue
While many people may think gangs are a phenomenon isolated to major cities, Sandfly's case could be part of a disturbing trend.
According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan's nation-leading homicide rate is bolstered in part by a recent spike in gang-related homicides.
The stats show 13 of the province's 54 homicides in 2016 were gang-related. Most of those gang-related killings happened outside of Regina and Saskatoon.
"I think they are a growing concern and part of it (is) we don't really know what's happening on reserves. People have this idea that gangs are only an urban issue," said Robert Henry, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary.
Henry has spent his career studying Indigenous street gangs in Saskatchewan. He said gangs on reserves or in rural areas have many of the same features of gangs that operate in the cities — they traffic in violence and intimidation.
I think it's gotten worse after my brother's death — a lot of kids being recruited, and a lot more violence on the reserve.- Jocelyn Sandfly, on gang violence in her community
And like so many of young Indigenous people who gravitate toward gangs in the city, gangs in remote areas recruit those who feel isolated and powerless.
"The activities they are partaking in centre around violence for the most part, but it's violence in order to become recognized, or gain power or respect," Henry said.
"So once we begin to ask the question why don't they feel respected, why don't they have power, then we can begin to address what's actually happening in those communities."
Shooting happened after failed attempt to steal gas
Just before her brother's killing, Jocelyn Sandfly had called the RCMP after she caught her brother, Jordan, and a group of other men trying to steal gas from her truck. Soon after the call, she heard the shot and then the 28-year-old father of two was found dead.
His friend, Anthony Mitsuing, a 32-year-old man from the nearby Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, was charged with first-degree murder. Mitsuing was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison.
While the agreed statement of facts presented in court makes no mention of gangs, Sandfly mentioned how Mitsuing and others who were there that night were part of a local gang that has been growing on Big Island.
Before and after the killing, she had seen photos on Facebook of the people her brother was with that night wearing red bandanas, flashing guns.
"I think it's gotten worse after my brother's death — a lot of kids being recruited, and a lot more violence on the reserve," she said.
Sandfly said she would have liked to see a stiffer sentence, but she is working hard to forgive the man who killed her brother.
Gangs are hard to define
Part of the difficulty with reports like the one released by Statistics Canada is trying to define what is and what is not a gang-related crime, according to Henry.
According to the Uniform Crime Reporting used by Statistics Canada, "a (street) gang is defined as a more or less structured group" that uses "intimidation and violence to commit criminal acts on a regular basis, in order to obtain power and recognition and/or control specific areas of criminal activities."
A homicide receives a gang-related tag by Statistics Canada when the police confirm the suspect or the victim were either members or "somehow associated" with a gang and the homicide was carried out as a result of this "association."
They see a tag and they are automatically afraid that gangs are overrunning their communities, when the reality is a lot of these kids see this symbols and may replicate them because they are trying to gain power.- Robert Henry, assistant professor at the University of Calgary
That can be a difficult assumption for police to make, Henry said, especially in rural areas and on reserves. Gangs range from highly organized criminal networks that deal in drugs and extortion to loosely knit groups of young people, he added.
"They see a tag and they are automatically afraid that gangs are overrunning their communities, when the reality is a lot of these kids see this symbols and may replicate them because they are trying to gain power," Henry said.
RCMP want to address 'root causes' of gang crimes
RCMP Staff. Sgt. Rob Embree said there are some difficulties particular to solving gang crimes in rural or remote areas.
"Lots of times we are dealing with a situation where there is unwillingness to come forward or to be cooperative with the police," Embree said.
Embree explained that much of the gang-related homicides take place between rival gangs or within the gangs themselves. He said the police are actively working with communities across the province to help with intervention and preventing gang crimes.
But Sandfly claims that in the wake of her brother's murder on Dec. 20, 2016, things have been getting worse; the gangs are getting more confident, more open with their activities.
She would like to see some prevention programs make their way into more remote and isolated areas.
"There's no outreach program here; there are no resources," Sandfly said. "I don't feel safe anymore. I used to feel safe here. Now I don't."