Indigenous

Father and son pulled over by Sask. RCMP after stopping on rural road for bathroom break

A Saskatchewan First Nations man says he feels he and his son were racially profiled when they ended up being detained by RCMP on suspicion of breaking and entering because they stopped on a rural road for a bathroom break.

Property owner called police mistakenly reporting a break and enter

Seraine and his son Alexi together on one of their many road trips. (Saraine Sunkawaste)

A Saskatchewan First Nations man says he feels he and his son were racially profiled when they ended up being detained by RCMP on suspicion of breaking and entering because they stopped on a rural road for a bathroom break.

"​It's a very different landscape now for Indigenous people in rural areas," said Seraine Sunkawaste, who is Dakota/Cree.

"I want everyone to feel safe. I was just scared for my son."

Sunkawaste and his 17-year-old son Alexi, who has Down syndrome, were driving to Regina July 1 after a trip to their home community of White Bear First Nation.

He said halfway to their destination, Alexi said he need to use the washroom. Sunkawaste was hesitant to stop at first, thinking about the death of Colten Boushie.

Boushie, 22, was shot in the head after he and group of other young people from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Gerald Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016. Stanley was acquitted in February in the death. 

​But with his son's urgency to use the washroom, he said he had to stop, and said this was something the pair had done many times before.

Concerned for his son's safety on the shoulder of Highway 33, Sunkawaste pulled onto an adjacent grid road and stopped.

He said he relieved himself near the rear of his car while Alexi went further away from the road, into the ditch, for privacy.

I was stressing to him, 'You cannot go on farm property.- Seraine   Sunkawaste ,  Father

"He did his duties and was standing about 15 feet away from this quonset [a kind of steel barn], in the ditch," said Sunkawaste.

He said he yelled out to his son to come back and Alexi hurried back to the car.

"I was stressing to him 'You cannot go on farm property.'"

17-year-old Alexi Sunkawaste poses with his father Seraine Sunkawaste at his graduation. (Tara Pellitier)

The two then got back into their vehicle and got back on to the highway.

Pulled over and handcuffed

Sunkawaste said a truck from the farm left the property at the same time he and his son were merging back on to the highway. He said he noticed they were going in the same direction.

"I didn't think anything of it, they weren't tailgating me or anything," he said. 

"I actually laughingly told Lexi they were probably going to Regina, too." 

But within a few minutes, an RCMP patrol car pulled them over.

He said the RCMP officer approached the vehicle and asked for his licence and registration. Then the officer told him he would need to exit the vehicle, and that he was being detained for suspicion of a break and enter.

"I was like, 'What? Break and enter?" said Sunkawaste.

"I was trying to make sense of what is going on."

Alexi attempted to get out of the vehicle when the RCMP officer was handcuffing Sunkawaste

Concerned that his son was frightened, Sunkawaste said he asked that Alexi be allowed to stay with him, explaining that he was special needs. Father and son were both placed in the back of the police cruiser. 

Sunkawaste said a second RCMP cruiser arrived within minutes.

He kept asking questions about what was going on and the officer told him his vehicle and his son matched the description given by a property owner about a break and enter. 

Property owner called police

Cpl. Rob King, media relations officer for F Division, said the Fillmore RCMP detachment received a call at about 6 p.m. July 1 about a possible break and enter on a farm in the area.

The complainant stated she witnessed someone running from a building on her property to a car parked on the road at the end of her driveway.

King said a member of the Fillmore RCMP who was in the area caught up with the vehicle and detained the driver.  

The farm owner then contacted the detachment and informed them there was no break-in and nothing was missing from her property. 

King said for an officer to detain a suspect, there has to be reasonable grounds. He said the fact that a suspect was witnessed running from a property by the owner gave RCMP reasonable grounds to stop the vehicle.

"As the investigation continued on it was determined that no offence had taken place, and that the vehicle was stopped [at the farm] for a legitimate reason," said King.

RCMP said the incident lasted about half an hour from when the driver was placed in the a cruiser to him being released. No charges were laid.

Plans to file complaint

Sunkawaste said he plans to submit a complaint to the special investigations unit of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. The unit helps people making complaints against police in Saskatchewan. 

He said the incident made him feel insecure, violated and embarrassed. He said he wonders if the same approach would have been taken if it had been someone other than an Indigenous person. 

"We need to build stable relations between non-Indigenous people and Indigenous people," he said. 

"This time of year a lot of Indigenous people are travelling because it's powwow season. I just want people to know that we need to come to some sort of understanding going into the future."

About the Author

Penny Smoke

Journalist

Penny Smoke is Cree/Saulteaux and was born and raised in Saskatchewan on the Treaty 4 territory. She currently works with CBC Saskatchewan and has spent time with CBC Indigenous, CBC Storytelling Project as a reporter and as an associate producer with CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.