Exclusive: Widow’s 911 call before James Smith Cree Nation murders reveals prior violence

Click to play video: 'Widow’s 911 call before Saskatchewan stabbings sheds new light on violence'
Widow’s 911 call before Saskatchewan stabbings sheds new light on violence
ABOVE: Widow's 911 call before Saskatchewan stabbings sheds new light on violence – Feb 9, 2023

Twenty-four hours before the massacre at James Smith Cree Nation, Skye Sanderson called 911 to report her husband, saying she was “scared” because he was known to be violent.

The next day, 11 people were killed and 18 injured, and Skye’s husband Damien, and his brother Myles Sanderson, were accused of committing one of Canada’s worst-ever mass murders.

Global News has obtained the full 911 call, which lasted three minutes and 44 seconds, that Skye made at about 4 a.m. on Sept. 3, and the accompanying occurrence report, under a Privacy Act request.

Listen to the 911 call below:

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The call confirms what Skye told Global News in an exclusive interview in September: that she’d asked the RCMP for help to locate Damien, believing him to be drunk and unstable, and asked them to keep looking until they found him. But it also reveals that Skye informed the RCMP of his violent streak.

“I’m scared because I have several domestic charges against him, and he hasn’t been picked up yet,” Skye calmly tells the operator.

Click to play video: 'Damien Sanderson’s widow’s 911 call before James Smith Cree Nation murders'
Damien Sanderson’s widow’s 911 call before James Smith Cree Nation murders

Damien was absolved of his role in the murders shortly after Skye told Global News that she believed he too had been killed by Myles. However, RCMP said at the time that both brothers were involved in planning the massacre.

On Sept. 3, Damien had stolen Skye’s car and was driving around harassing her family. When the car was eventually located, Damien gave RCMP members a fake name. The RCMP was aware he had outstanding warrants for his arrest but did not ask him for identification.

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Skye maintains that had her warnings been heeded and Damien asked for identification, the murders may never have happened.

“I do (feel like they failed me). Every day,” she says.

But, she too wishes she had done more that morning.

“I should’ve done more than what the RCMP officers did that day. I wish they knew the fear I was going through that morning. I should’ve done more.”

Skye and Damien Sanderson, pictured on their wedding day, Aug. 31, 2012.

RCMP have refused to comment on the 911 call, saying they released it in error, and the matter is currently before a Coroner’s inquest. However, in October, Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore confirmed RCMP received an anonymous call 24 hours before the murders about a stolen car.

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EXCLUSIVE: Saskatchewan stabbing suspect’s wife says she called RCMP 24 hours before murders

Hilary Peterson, a lawyer and a University of Saskatchewan College of Law lecturer, says that while the threshold is extremely high for RCMP to ask people for identification — a practice known as “street checks” or “carding” — and is often considered illegal, police may have been within their rights to ask for Damien’s identification in this instance.

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“I do think that would be reasonable in that circumstance to suspect that person is connected to the crime,” Peterson says.

However, she says, “A hunch is not enough [to do a street check].”

‘He hasn’t been caught yet’

On Sept. 3, at 4:03 a.m., Skye called 911. She told the operator that Damien had come into the house and taken her car keys.

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“Now he’s driving around and he’s … couple phone calls from family members that he’s harassing them, like going around their houses,” Skye says, before describing the make and model of her car in detail.

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The operator asks if Damien had been drinking. While her response is redacted from the recording, the police occurrence report states that Skye believed he was intoxicated.

Unprompted, Skye then says she’s concerned because she has outstanding domestic charges against him.

Click to play video: 'RCMP confirm Global News reports on James Smith Cree Nation suspect Damien Sanderson'
RCMP confirm Global News reports on James Smith Cree Nation suspect Damien Sanderson

When the operator repeats this back to her later in the call, Skye says she doesn’t know how many charges she’s made against Damien but adds, “I made a bunch of statements, video statements and he hasn’t been caught yet.”

She then asks for her call to remain anonymous. She refused to tell RCMP how the car was stolen.

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Speaking to Global News about the audio, Skye says she didn’t want to share her identity because she was scared of the two men, thinking they would come after her. A day earlier, she says, she’d seen Myles violently beat his partner, Vanessa. Damien had taken Myles away in Skye’s car to “cool off,” she says. But she hadn’t heard from him since.

Damien and Skye Sanderson, pictured with their three children. Supplied

Skye had reported her husband for domestic violence about a year prior to the murders.

“He was often violent but that was the first time it was worse,” she told Global News. “He threw me around.”

RCMP members had come to her home, photographed her injuries, and took her statement, Skye says, but there had been no follow-up.

According to Damien’s criminal file, at the time of the murders he had two outstanding warrants for his arrest for assault: one from August 2021, and one from June 2022. The names of the victims have been withheld.

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‘Why didn’t they go back and ask him for I.D?’

Two RCMP officers were dispatched to James Smith Cree Nation at 4:15 a.m. on Sept. 3. They were aware of Damien’s outstanding arrest warrant and had a picture of him from 2014.

They located Skye’s car at about 6 a.m., outside a James Smith Cree Nation home. The residents allowed RCMP members to come in, where they found the keys on the table.

The resident told members “she was unsure how the keys got there or who put them there,” the occurrence report says.

At a press conference in October, Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore told reporters that a group of about seven people were inside the house, including three males. The RCMP asked the males to identify themselves, and Damien gave the name of another James Smith member. No one was asked for identification.

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When Skye arrived at the house to pick up her car, she claims to have informed RCMP members that Damien was with Myles, who the Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers listed as “unlawfully at large” and last seen in Saskatoon, about 200 kilometres away. She says she begged them to look harder because she was worried they were going to do “something stupid.”

The RCMP has denied that Myles’ name was reported to them that morning.

“At no time during the first 911 report to police, or any of the following conversations between Melfort RCMP officers and the caller, on the morning of September 3rd, was Myles Sanderson’s name, or actions, or any threats of violence, reported to police,” Blackmore said in October.

The occurrence report then states that Skye was unwilling to provide a statement or press charges and that there was “no evidence to support theft of vehicle.” However, Skye says the RCMP did not offer to take her somewhere to provide a statement, and she was reluctant to do so outside the house where she believed Damien and Myles to be hiding.

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Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore speaks during a press conference, alongside the mugshots of Damien and Myles Sanderson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell. MLB

Before members left to try to find Damien at several alternative addresses, Skye says they showed her their picture of Damien. She says she told them it was old and that he had “put on weight.”

“After I said that, why didn’t they go back and ask him for ID?” she asks.

In 2018, the Saskatchewan Police Commission updated its policy on “street checks” after minority groups said they were being unfairly targeted. The new policy said people could not be stopped based on their race or because they were in a high crime area, and reminded the public they were under no obligation to talk to police.

But Peterson, who lectures on criminal law and youth crime at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, says the RCMP members could likely have asked for identification in this instance, given the car was found outside the residence, the keys were inside and Damien had a warrant out for his arrest.

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Click to play video: 'Focus Saskatchewan: First Nations Policing'
Focus Saskatchewan: First Nations Policing

However, she says, “Hindsight is 20/20.”

“To request ID from someone, that’s considered a form of detention. In order to detain someone, you’re having them not able to leave for investigative purposes. Do they have evidence to suggest this person is lying? You then have to provide the reasons for the detention and the right to counsel. The question is, is that enough to detain someone? Do you have the legal authority to detain a person?”

Peterson says Saskatchewan RCMP, in particular, has been criticized for targeting First Nations people in identification checks, so members had to ask themselves if all criteria had been met.

“There are various homes in this area, it’s an indigenous community. They can’t go to every person’s home asking for ID.”

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