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RCMP release internal review into their response to James Smith Cree Nation stabbings

The internal review delves into the initial call for service, command structures, public alerts and response to victims.

Recommendations include more community outreach, policy on officer response

A large black armoured vehicle drives on a dirt road past an RCMP SUV with an officer standing outside.

An internal review has found there was no "common underlying circumstance" that significantly impacted the RCMP's ability to respond to the James Smith Cree Nation stabbing massacre.

The 110-page document examines the RCMP's response to an incident where 11 people were killed and 17 were injured in multiple locations spread throughout James Smith Cree Nation and the community of Weldon, Sask., in September 2022.

The report delves into the initial call for service, command structures, public alerts and response to victims.

While the review of the RCMP's approach is mostly positive, it does make 36 recommendations that could enhance responses to "future, similar situations."

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore and other high-ranking officers in the Saskatchewan RCMP are scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday to address the report and take questions from the media.

The review contains a timeline that was previously released by the RCMP and outlined during a pair of inquests earlier this year.

One inquest examined the circumstances of the victims' deaths at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, and how similar tragedies could be prevented in the future.

The other inquest looked into the in-custody death of Myles Sanderson, the man who perpetrated the stabbing rampage.

Those inquests resulted in several recommendations for the RCMP, whose written responses have been posted online.

Blackmore told CBC late in 2023 that the review was mostly completed at that time. As a result, the review does not incorporate details heard during the pair of coroner's inquests.

WATCH | What we learned in the James Smith Cree Nation stabbing inquest:

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After a nearly three-week long inquest into the stabbing massacre at James Smith Cree Nation, both the jury and coroner have shared recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. Here's a closer look at their findings.

No unreasonable delay in police response

The report released on Thursday highlights how the Mounties' initial response was found to be appropriate.

Two police officers, Const. Tanner Maynard and Const. Dave Miller, were dispatched after the initial 911 call was received.

Miller, who was on call, took nine minutes to arrive at the Melfort detachment and then leave with Maynard in the same police vehicle. The review found this was the only delay in response and that it was reasonable.

At that point, the only information the pair had was that there had been a single stabbing, with the suspects having departed from the scene. However, the nature of the call required Maynard to have backup with him.

Both officers were informed there were more crime scenes and more alleged victims as they travelled to James Smith Cree Nation.

The police vehicle travelled at speeds up to 178 km/hr and it took the officers 28 minutes to arrive at James Smith Cree Nation after leaving the Melfort detachment.

Maynard and Miller separated after arriving at the first of what would eventually be 40 crime scenes.

The decision to separate, with Maynard moving on to another crime scene and Miller staying behind to provide first aid, is criticized in the report even while their work is described as commendable.

The two officers were put at a tactical disadvantage, since there was only one vehicle and they were roughly 12 kilometres apart, the review said.

Neither Miller nor Maynard could back each other up if required, and the portable radio reception in the area of James Smith Cree Nation was poor, so they may not have been able to easily contact each other.

WATCH | Report examines how James Smith Cree Nation mass killer was released from custody before massacre:

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An investigation into the statutory release of a man who went on a stabbing rampage in Saskatchewan has released 14 recommendations for the Correctional Service of Canada and the parole board.

The report recommended addressing the issue of whether officers should travel together or separately. At the time of the James Smith Cree Nation stabbings, there was no national policy or guidance on the subject, the review highlighted.

That's why the first recommendation in the review is for a policy be developed.

The Saskatchewan RCMP have created a divisional policy that requires each detachment to conduct a risk assessment on whether two-person or one-person patrol vehicles are viable for each shift. It's not clear whether a national policy has been developed.

Community outreach recommended

Another recommendation made in the review is for the RCMP to encourage its officers to make their presence known in the James Smith Cree Nation.

Those visits could be for a patrol or for specific events, to create a relationship with the community, according to the review.

An unspecified number of residents of James Smith Cree Nation reported a belief that if an officer had been posted to the community, there would have been fewer victims.

The review noted that type of service "was not an option" and went beyond the scope of the review, but enough people voiced concerns about the lack of visibility of the RCMP in the community that the recommendation was made.

The Saskatchewan RCMP's response was that although officers do try to attend events at the First Nation, the limited number of officers poses a challenge.

The Melfort detachment has 16 officers responsible for patrolling 6,216 square kilometres, including one city, eight towns and 11 rural municipalities, as well as James Smith Cree Nation.

Province 'reluctant' to fund aircraft repairs

The officer in charge of the RCMP's response immediately identified there was a need for a plane capable of searching for and locating the suspects.

However, the Mounties were forced to rely on the plane operated by the Saskatoon Police Service.

The RCMP has three planes in Saskatchewan, two of which are only used for transporting personnel and cargo. The other plane, a Cessna, was not operational at the time of the James Smith Cree Nation search.

Instead, air assets from other RCMP divisions were called in to assist.

The report notes that upgrades are needed, but any upgrades to the fleet have to be approved by the Government of Saskatchewan, which leases the vehicles.

"Although there is a recognized need to upgrade mission equipment and remedy the issues preventing the use of certain assets … the provincial government seems reluctant to supply the funds," the report said.

Although the air services unit has submitted multiple business cases to the province for upgrading the Cessna, it has so far been unsuccessful.

"All of this puts F Division Air Services in a difficult position as far as being able to efficiently assist with operations," the report said.

Erroneous public alert issued in Regina

The RCMP review also provides details on why a public alert was issued for Regina on Sept. 4, reporting that the suspects may have been travelling on Arcola Avenue in the city.

The public had been told in previous alerts that the suspect or suspects were travelling in a Nissan Rogue.

The review reveals that a tip was reported to the Regina Police Service advising that a black Nissan Rogue had been spotted driving in Regina. However, in this case, a plate number for the vehicle was not relayed to the 911 operator.

But since the plate number for the vehicle was assumed by the operator, it was forwarded as part of the tip.

WATCH | A timeline of how the Sask. stabbing rampage unfolded:

A timeline of how the Sask. stabbing rampage unfolded

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What we know so far about when and where the stabbings of 28 people in Saskatchewan happened and the police response.

The credibility of the tip was believed high enough that the public alert was issued and an RCMP helicopter from Alberta was briefly rerouted to Regina instead of James Smith Cree Nation.

The review said it was just a "momentary shift of focus" but that it "did not divert the ongoing efforts" in the Weldon and James Smith Cree Nation area.

Report 'meaningful': independent observer

The report's conclusions are being welcomed by Jason Stonechild, an independent observer who served as a liaison with the James Smith Cree Nation community and provided cultural guidance.

Stonechild is the executive director of justice for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

Stonechild is also a retired deputy police chief of the Prince Albert Police Service.

In comments included in the report, Stonechild said the team leading the review was "highly competent" and "impartial."

"I believe the findings contained within this report are accurate and meaningful," he wrote.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon

Reporter

Alexander Quon has been a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan since 2021 and is happy to be back working in his hometown of Regina after half a decade in Atlantic Canada. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in municipal political coverage and data-reporting. He can be reached at: alexander.quon@cbc.ca.

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