Mass stabbing inquest hears of horror, heroism | Front Burner

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Hi I’m Damon Fairless before we get started on today’s episode I just want to give you a heads up that we’re going to be talking about some distressing violence so please listen with care some of them are carrying grief some of them are angry some of them they’re kind of lost

Right no but we have to fire there for a reason for them to help them Randy Burns is a firekeeper from James Smith cre Nation he’s one of the many people there who lost family in the mass stabbing that took place on September 4th 2022 it was one of the worst in Canadian

History last Monday he tended to a sacred fire outside an event center in melord Saskatchewan that’s where Corners inquest is being held into how my Sanderson killed killed 11 people and injured 17 others sometimes people don’t know how to cry and they put Tob back down

There to to talk for them Sanderson had a Canada wide warrant for his arrest before his Rampage and even after he eluded police for 4 days Sanderson was charged with first-degree murder but he died in police custody soon after his arrest meaning he never stood trial the

Inquest which got underway last week and will for a total of 3 weeks includes testimony from police the parole board victims and family members Jason war is a reported with CBC Saskatoon he’s here to tell us what the inquest has revealed so far about the massacre on James Smith

Creation and its impact on the people who live there hey Jason thanks for coming on front burner you’re welcome so uh it’s still just under a year and a half since the attack and really it was an incomparable trauma for the the people of the James Smith creation the inquest

Started this past week so I I guess I’m curious before I began how were folks in the communi feeling about it it’s unimaginable uh the trauma that was experienced on that day September 4th 2022 when these Mass stabbings occurred again 11 people killed and 17 wounded and innumerable families uh and

Communities affected at James Smith crenation but also in the neighboring Village of Welden where there there was one of the fatalities I’ve visited the community a couple of times uh in the week before the inquest began they allowed me to come there and to meet with leaders and I met with the chief

Coroner actually for the province who was there meeting with families trying to give them a bit of a warning about what was to come let’s honor the people that passed away let’s have their story told put rumors to rest so people factually know what happened and hopefully we can get some good

Recommendations at the end I was able to take in some of the sweats and ceremonies that were taking place Place uh on the First Nation again about 200 kilm Northeast of of Saskatoon and and there was just a sense of heaviness and that’s a word they actually used

Everything was Heavy you could just feel a heaviness in the community the hurt is still there The Grieving is still there I just like to ask uh uh our country Canada for many prayers for our people I think it’s going to be very uh traumatic to see all of the uh evidence the

Physical evidence that’s presented inquests are very uh clinical medical graphic there was uh still a lot of anger um a lot of sadness but just a lot of tension about what was to come and and there was really mixed feelings uh and those have remained this week uh

Whether this inquest is even a good idea the justice system is never ever been kind to us native people so do we have faith in this justice system do we have have faith in this I don’t think we do I don’t think we do at all because history to us has been very

Unjust they’ll be getting answers but uh is this just revealing and at any given time from the James Smith creation here uh that’s not including the people who are who are working to support everyone so the the leaders came and the grief counselors came and the elders came to support all of those

People who had to listen to this very graphic detailed testimony about their loved ones and many people I talked to at James Smith said that they just didn’t feel as though they could come uh it was too traumatic and uh some do want updates and there are plans in place to

To update the regularly but not have them sit through all of this some what we heard last week was about what mil Sanderson and his brother Damen were doing before the attacks leading up to it and and one of the people who testified was Vanessa Burns so so that’s miles sanderson’s former

Common-in-law partner yes who I understand suffered years of abuse from him what can you give me a sense of what she told the inquest about that period leading up to the attack well um most people say that her words were incredibly powerful and this was the

First time that she has spoken the the longtime partner of the perpetrator of one of the worst mass stabbings in in Canadian history yeah I just reopened everything so but I’m ready to move on with my life too Vanessa Burns talked about her life with mil Sanderson how

They they met when they were in their late teens how he was very polite and Charming at the start but very quickly it it descended with the addictions to alcohol with the growing violence and cor of control they called it and felt she couldn’t leave and it just grew and

Grew and grew weeks before the stabbings Vanessa said she drove Sanderson around James Smith crenation to sell drugs two days before the attacks Sanderson brutally assaulted Vanessa while driving his brother Daman known for calming miles down intervened but it didn’t last and then culminated in this mass stabbing incident in which we heard

Testimony that that she was likely one of the targets that he actually uh did not get to Sanderson killed Vanessa’s father Earl burn Senor and stabbed her mother Earl tried to chase Sanderson down in a school bus but the vehicle was found in this ditch with the headlights

On the morning of the attacks there was another woman who testified too Sky Sanderson that’s Damen sanderson’s wife she describes this conversation she had with Damien two weeks before the attacks where apparently he said in a quote here I think my brother’s the devil or something and also I want to effing kill

Vanessa and when I do I’m gonna kill 10 others can you tell me more about what sky heard from Damian well yes Sky Sanderson again is the the longtime partner of my sanderson’s brother so just to refresh uh everyone’s memory U my Sanderson is the the perpetrator of

All of these crimes and and in the early hours of this some including RCMP thought that Damian Sanderson might be doing this as well and uh no one at that time knew that Damen Sanderson was actually the first victim of his brother’s killing his body was not

Discovered until after the others and so there was a lot of talk about that but also these conversations that Sky Sanderson had with Miles about how he gave indications that he was planning something major and there were a series of text messages between her and and Damian and others that showed an

Escalating level of threat I guess you could call it they were increasingly ominous texts particularly from Damian talking about him and miles and how they weren’t going to be taken alive and how they were going to go down together and all of these things and and she uh

Testified and said later that that she assumed this was just bravado or just bragging or just talking tough and in Damian’s case she believes that that is all that it was but in miles increasingly twisted uh reality this is exactly what he was wanting to do right

So so I I I know this guy that the Damian’s wife actually called the police the day before the Rampage and and when when she was speaking last week this is something that that came up that the inquest heard from both her sky and the police about why her call didn’t lead to

Daman and Miles arrest right can you tell me about that she did call the day before when they had taken her vehicle uh without permission right they had looked around for and and at at that point as you can imagine RCMP testified that a call about a a stolen vehicle was

Not a high priority that Detachment alone gets an estimated 6,000 calls for service every year in her only interview since the stabbings Sky told Global newses Ashley Stewart she reported her husband and his brother to police 24 hours before the stabbings took place they for my safety and then so they

Dispatched the whatever and then they you know what Daman possibly might be I was like look around the reserve he’s hiding she told so I understand after that call from Sky police did locate the vehicle near house in James Smith yes they did at that point again they were

Looking for a stolen vehicle right they were looking for Miles Sanderson because he he did have an outstanding warrant they did obtain permission to go in uh they went into the basement and Damen Sanderson gave officers a false name name and at that point RCMP in their

Database had an outdated photo and they didn’t look into it further at that point miles Anderson the killer was actually in that house just minutes earlier but saw the RCMP coming and ran into the bushes again the response from RCMP was that at this point we weren’t dealing with an imminent urgent

Situation this was a a warrant and a stolen vehicle so note that Sky Sanderson testified that she told police Damien was definitely inside the house and to go back and check again and also she informed them that they were using out dat photo but then another one of the

People who testified was staff sergeant Robin zetner and he laid out how he says mil Sanderson committed these attacks so according to police what was he doing and saying as he went on this Rampage sure well there were 42 separate crime scenes 257 witnesses that were interviewed this is the largest

Investigation criminal investigation in Saskatchewan’s history we spent an entire day on the 48 Hours leading up to the attacks in in the testimony and they talked about how Damian and Miles returned to James Smith and also um Vanessa was brought by Miles and forced with him to sell cocaine in the

Community and and then collect on drug debts and again this this violence that was was increasing this paranoia in his mind that was was increasing and uh as he was going from house to house to house over more than a dozen locations in those early hours of September 4th

And then circling he actually circled back to a few of them he was saying things like do you know how many bodies I’ve got but then other times he was just being very matter of fact demanding carys demanding cigarettes or alcohol and we did hear from testimony from

Others who who said that this was not a random act of violence this was not about how many people he thought he wanted to kill this was very specific in his paranoid brain likely high on a number of substances that he believed he had a grievance with each and every one

Of these people or each and every one of these people who is connected to the person that he wanted to do violence against and again just staggering how how much damage was done in such a short period of time so so sorry just to give

Me a little more sense of what that I guess in his you know Twisted logic what is that logic because he was letting some people go right and there was specific targeting of others it just briefly help me understand I as best we can what his logic was he uh as the

Forensic psychologist and the lead RCMP officer investigator testified that in his brain these were all grievances they called it criminal psychologist Matt Logan says Sanderson showed many signs of psychopathy he says Sanderson may have had fetal alcohol syndrome ADHD an intermittent explosive disorder often having un and some of them were were

Reactive for example when when his brother Daman refused to go along with this plan of violence and and tried to break it up that’s when Daman was an impediment and needed to be eliminated and so that’s why Daman they believe was the the first killing the others they

Believe that he had specific ideas in his mind whether it was a perceived connection to a a gang or uh an ex- partner who rejected him or uh many other reasons a lot of them were not factual or or not real but nevertheless some he left alone and others became his

Victims there were some amid all of this you know horror and tragedy there were also some stories of heroism by some of the folks in the community who were you know trying to help stop Sanderson can you tell me about those a bit yes uh definitely so Earl Burns is one of the

People who uh was held up as one of the heroes of this inquest and for Vanessa burns the ex partner of mil Sanderson and Deborah Burns her sister uh they talked about and the witnesses heard about how he actually saw the attacks at his property and some of his loved ones

And he was actually stabbed and he gave Chase in a school bus to try and stop mil Sanderson who he correctly believed he was on his way to do more violence and so we don’t know exactly how it happened but unfortunately Earl Burns was found deceased on that bus on a grid

Road and so we we heard about his heroism but then we also heard about others and the the first RCMP officer to respond it was again Tanner mayard and he talked about how he walked into one of the homes and he saw someone giving

CPR to a woman and he could see that the the woman was clearly dead had died at this point already but he encouraged the the relative to continue giving CPR and he said he knew it was likely futile at that moment but it was still important

He said he said you always want to give the opportunity for family members to say they did everything they could to save the lives of their their loved ones and so amid all of this chaos some some very brave Acts there’s been a lot of criticism of the

Police response there’s one RCMP officer who apparently stopped for fast food on his way uh there were a couple police officers who drove past the school bus that Earl Burns who you mentioned earlier was was dying in and then the photo that the police sent out wasn’t

Actually of my Sanderson it was a different person with the same name so I guess I’m just curious how the how the police are defending themselves here you summarized it well there are uh quite a number of criticisms or at least questions about how RCMP uh responded to

This and I’ll take a couple of the examples that you mentioned the the Detachment Commander at the time for that Detachment he he was responding after those two officers to that first that first murder scene and again he did stop for fast food on the way and uh he

Testified that at that point he believed it to be a secure scene of an act of violence that had already been committed and he believed his officers were there all day and that they would need food and so he says that in hindsight if he had known there would be much more than

Than they believ there was at that moment he would have never never stopped at that moment the other concern again was that Earl Burns who we just talked about uh in the school bus was passed by at least four times by RCMP driving along that stretch of grid Road the RCMP

Testified they did see that school bus and it did concern them it did look out of place but they had multiple specific complaints of active stabbings that were going on at specific locations and didn’t feel that they had time to stop I was somewhat angry right wondering why

Why help didn’t get to him sooner but talking to the actual police officer that attended the scene and seeing his facial expression and hearing his voice and seeing that he’s a human being as well and that he’s affected by this too and so quite a number of criticisms and

Questions and those are all being interrogated uh here at the inquest over these three weeks there was also you know I think a more considerable and and and very understandable sense of outrage that my Sanderson wasn’t already in prison when these attacks happened and just to lay

It out for folks you know Sanderson had 78 convictions between 2004 and 2019 he was given statutory release from prison in uh 2021 and he was later declared unlawfully at large and was never caught so what else do you think we might learn about his release the fact that he

Wasn’t you know in custody that’s one of the big questions that’s expected to come up in the next uh week or two as the inquest continues many people are wondering why he was let out the length of sentence that he received why he had violated his parole but had

Not been taken back into custody and so uh those are all questions that we’re expecting to hear more about in the coming days as the coroner said we’re we’re over the hump as he put it now with the specific details of uh what happened on those days leading up to and

Including September 4th uh a lot of the traumatic details and people involved and now we’re looking at more of the issues whether it’s the the parl system and the correction system whether those worked in this case whether it’s Addiction Services in these communities or whether they’re adequate many

Different issues I mean the the overriding rational here is that we’re trying to prevent something like this from happening and as much as that’s possible so at the end of this inquest six members of its jury are going to make recommendations to exactly that point you know helping prevent an attack

Like this from happening again some of the members of the jury are indigenous others aren’t what kind of potential action have folks in the community been talking about already I’m just curious to to see where this might be leading uh it’s it’s just that they’re wanting better Addiction Services uh in the

Community more supports for mental health and cultural Revival which they say are are key to the the long-term uh health of the community they’re talking about uh policing in uh First Nations communities and uh they’ve cited several successful examples some in other parts of saskat one and and elsewhere where

It’s helped to decrease uh violence if there’s faster response times when things happen but also to have a more responsive Police Service in the community but there was also testimony that RCMP may be needed at least for the shorter medium term to be closer to the community actually and more involved in

The community until this first nation’s police force can be trained adequately and uh and feels comfortable taking over all right uh Jason thanks so much for spending time talking to us today I really appreciate it you’re welcome all right that’s it for today I’m Damon Fairless thanks for listening to Front

Burner we’ll talk to you tomorrow

The revelations from the Saskatchewan inquest into one of Canada’s worst mass stabbings, and why those affected have mixed feelings about the process.

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