FSIN and families renew call for civilian-led investigations of police-related deaths in Sask.
'Bottom line: it's police investigating police," said FSIN vice-chief Ed Lerat
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is again calling on the Saskatchewan government to create an independent, civilian-led agency to investigate police-related deaths and shootings in the province.
The FSIN held a news conference Tuesday morning along with with the families of two Indigenous men who died in recent years after interactions with police: Brydon Whitstone and Jordan Lafond. Both men were involved in high-speed police chases before their deaths.
While quick to assert that the FSIN is not against the police, leaders said that the current system for investigating such incidents is not transparent enough.
Specifically, the practice of one Saskatchewan police agency asking another agency from the same province to investigate a death — or a Sask. police agency investigating itself — came under fire.
"Bottom line: it's police investigating police," said FSIN Vice-Chief Edward Dutch Lerat, referring to Regina Police Service's investigation of the RCMP's October 2017 shooting of Whitstone, who died shortly after the altercation.
"We see that [investigation practice] as suspect. There are many many good police officers, but at the same time, when police investigate police, there's always that [perception]."
Former FSIN Chief Lawrence Joseph put it more bluntly.
"Just like the inmates, they won't rat on each other," he said. "With all due respect to police agencies."
No changes planned: ministry
Lerat said Saskatchewan is the only province west of Ontario not to have a civilian-led investigative body.
He said the FSIN wants to meet with the Saskatchewan government about, "updating The Police Act to ensure that the civilian agency or an external agency will be will be developed and to bring the police act up to 2019 standards."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said Tuesday that Saskatchewan already has a police oversight body in the form of the Public Complaints Commission, a five-person board that investigates complaints about municipal police forces. That board must include a person of First Nation and a person of Métis ancestry.
"We will continue to monitor civilian oversight committees and how they operate in other Canadian jurisdictions," the spokesperson said. "At this time, there are no plans to change the way Saskatchewan currently handles police oversight."
Upcoming death inquest
Tuesday's press conference came two weeks before the scheduled opening in Saskatoon of a coroner's inquest into the death of Joshua Megeney, who was shot after a standoff with Saskatoon police during which Megeney reportedly barricaded himself inside a home.
Saskatoon police's internal major crimes unit investigated the Megeney incident. As is required by law when someone dies in a police incident, an investigation observer was tapped to oversee the investigation. (The investigation observer that oversaw the Whitstone investigation was not an ex-RCMP member.)
The observer — typically an ex-cop — reports back to the Ministry of Justice. The report is confidential.
Lerat called for such reports to be made public.
"We're calling for transparency, total transparency in processes that involve violence with our people," said Lerat.
'No apology' from police, says mother
Charmaine Dreaver, the mother of Jordan Lafond, was seated next to Lerat Tuesday.
A public inquest into Lafond's October 2016 death heard that, after Lafond's vehicle crashed, a police officer kneed the injured Lafond in the head as many as four times because he thought Lafond was resisting arrest. A forensic pathologist testified that the impact of the crash was a major factor in his death.
The six-person civilian jury ultimately deemed Lafond's death an accident and provided no recommendations to Saskatoon Police Service, to Dreaver's disappointment.
Dreaver said Tuesday she had yet to be contacted by the police service about what happened the day her son died.
"No apology. So yeah I'm pretty upset. That's why I'm really eager to push for some change in this province," said Dreaver.
Saskatoon Police Service previously told CBC News that Police Chief Troy Cooper had met with some members of Lafond's family and that the police service was open to any invitation from Dreaver to meet.
At the request of Saskatoon Police, the conduct of the officers involved in the Lafond incident was investigated by the Public Complaints Commission. The commission's findings went to Cooper last year.
Saskatoon police's internal review of those findings is ongoing, the police service said Tuesday.
"As far as an independent agency, the discussion around oversight has been taking place within our industry for the last year or more," a spokesperson said. "The SPS is interested in participating in that discussion and certainly understand the value independent oversight provides."
The press conference ended with Dreaver and Lerat affixing the first signatures to a petition calling on the Saskatchewan government to change The Police Act.