Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan are calling for the immediate firing of four Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) officers, including the police chief, after the death of a 13-month-old boy.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), and Thunderchild First Nation said in a joint statement Wednesday that the death of Tanner Brass was preventable.
They said systemic racism was a factor in Brass’s death.
“Baby Tanner’s death will not be in vain. We will work hard to ensure that this never happens to another First Nations child or mother again” said PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte.
“We are deeply troubled by how this situation was handled by PAPS and that the death of Baby Tanner could have been prevented.”
Prince Albert police said they were called to a home at 5:44 a.m. on Feb. 10 for a report of a family dispute. One person was taken to police cells.
Six hours later, police were called back to the home for a report of a child’s homicide.
Police have not said how Brass died. His father is charged with second-degree murder.
The Indigenous groups said they have concerns regarding gross negligence and systemic racism in PAPS in connection to the death.
They said the mother was fleeing from domestic violence, police ignored her fears and calls for help, and arrested her for intoxication.
“Mobile Crisis should have been called to accompany them to make sure the child was safe. Supports should have also been given to the mother where (she) and her baby could have been taken to a safe shelter,” Hardlotte said.
“What should have been basic policies and procedures that help to protect our vulnerable people in danger were completely disregarded by PAPS, and we are demanding to know why.”
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said they have no confidence in PAPS as Brass’s mother was treated differently because she is Indigenous.
“She wasn’t believed by these officers when she said she and her baby were in danger. She was taken into custody while innocent Baby Tanner’s life was taken,” Cameron said.
“The public keeps saying that racism doesn’t exist. This is a prime example of exactly what systemic racism looks like embedded within a justice system that is supposed to serve and protect.”
Thunderchild First Nation Chief James Snakeskin said Brass’s death has shaken his community.
“Our First Nations children are our most precious resource and Baby Tanner didn’t even have a chance to grow and live a beautiful life. The death of this baby affected not only Thunderchild, but many other First Nations,” he said.
“This is plain racism and it’s hard to see this child’s life was lost because of that.”
The groups are also calling on the province to hold a coroner’s inquest and want an immediate intervention from the Ministry of Corrections and Public Safety of the Prince Albert Police Service.
“There must be an immediate independent investigation and coroner’s inquest,” said Cameron.
“These officers and everyone who enabled this situation to occur and be swept under the rug until this point are just as much to blame as the killer. They must be terminated immediately.”
Prince Albert Police Service held a press conference on March 2 where they provided a statement. PAPS Chief Jonathan Bergen confirmed the PAPS officers who responded to the call are still on duty.
Bergen responded to FSIN Chief Cameron’s statement that involved PAPS officers including the Chief of Police himself need to be terminated immediately.
“I know the message is received loud and clear and we’re acknowledging that,” he said. “We have much work to do to build the trust and confidence in the community.”
Bergen has not commented on the allegations raised by the groups.
Bergen did make a change in the force’s structure following Brass’s death.
He said that in the days after the death, he determined a structure change was needed in the organization.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice provided a statement saying the Saskatchewan Coroners Service will make a decision regarding an inquest upon receiving the results of a police investigation.
The Ministry stated the Saskatchewan Police Commission is reaching out to the FSIN and the Prince Albert Police Service for more information.
“We can confirm this incident is currently being investigated by the Public Complaints Commission,” stated the ministry. “The Commission is responsible for ensuring that complaints made against municipal police are investigated fairly and thoroughly.”
The Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners sent out a statement following the PAPS press conference stating they fully support independent review of policy and standards.
“Those charges are now before the courts,” according to the statement. “As a Board, we continue to wait for more information from the results of the independent PCC investigation already underway so that we can all understand what happened and how operations at the Prince Albert Police Service can be improved moving forward.”