An end to the Saskatchewan tragedy, but also a warning for the future

So let’s get this straight. 

Myles Sanderson, aged 30, was arrested Wednesday about 3.30 pm local time in Rosthern, Sask. He was the key suspect in the murders of 11 people, and injuries to 19 others. His brother, Damien, was the other suspect.  Damien was found shot to death on the James Smith First Nation on Monday. 

Within an hour of Myles Sanderson’s arrest, he was dead.  He died in custody.  The RCMP announced he was in “medical distress” and died before the authorities could bring him to the hospital.  The RCMP says they can’t speak to the  “specific manner of death.” Let’s hope we find out.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Annual Report 2021-2022, declares that government policy is to “Develop options for clients who require intensive supervision.”  And provide “…psychological services for high-risk, violent inmates and those presenting with complex needs…”  The report also claims Corrections need to “…expand the use of mental health and suicide risk screening tools for inmates.”  In the Sanderson case, the police seemed to be the catalyst, or even responsible for this suspect dying in custody.   

When someone dies in custody…

Other provinces too have a history of allowing people to die–  in custody.  Let’s review the death of Corey Rogers, 41, in Halifax.  On June 15, 2016 Rogers was highly intoxicated and making a nuisance of himself.  On that night, his partner had just given birth in hospital.  Rogers harassed staff at the IWK and demanded to visit the mother and the baby.  The staff called the police. The police allowed Rogers to down a mickey of alcohol in front of them — before arresting him and driving him to the downtown police station.  Rogers repeatedly knocked his head against the plexiglass wall between the back and seats of the police cruiser. He shouted and swore. The cops put a spit hood over his head and threw him into a cell for the night. A spit hood is designed to keep liquids (such as spit) inside the hood few. A few hours later he was found dead; he had choked on his own vomit.  He had suffocated. The police did not technically kill him.  But they noted from the start that Rogers was in a severely drunk state.

“A core business of the Division [NS Corrections] is the operation of adult correctional facilities to provide safe and secure custody and control of individuals in custody.”

from NS Adult Correctional Facilities

Other than being drunk and disorderly, Rogers did nothing wrong, certainly nothing that deserved capital punishment.  In fact  “A core business of the Division  [NS Adult Correctional Facilities] is the operation of adult correctional facilities to provide safe and secure custody and control of  individuals in custody,” according to their website here.

Six months later in December 2016, Soleiman Faqiri, 30, was charged with uttering threats and aggravated assault.  He was arrested at the home he shared with his parents outside Toronto, and taken to Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont.  Though he suffered from schizophrenia, he was locked in a segregation cell before being sent to an acute care mental health facility.   He stayed in the jail cell for 10 days but, due to his illness and deteriorating mental state, he could not communicate with guards.  His family was never allowed to see him. On his final day, in a scuffle with guards, the guards dragged him out of sight of video cameras, restrained him, handcuffed and shackled him, put him in a prone position and covered his head with a spit hood. Then they doused him with pepper spray.  He died that day. 

Prisoners Exercising by Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

Many reports have detailed the fact that most people in prisons are marginalized, vulnerable and have mental health problems.  A 2019 report from the Ontario Expert Advisory Committee on Health Care Transformation in Corrections. insists that time in prison must be used to improve inmates’ health to ready them to be back “on the streets” as it were– or released. Clearly providing even rudimentary mental health care was not on the mind of the guards who killed Faqiri. 

Need to keep prisoners in custody safe

We have a serious problem with prisoners not being safe in custody– safe from police action (or inaction) or from self-inflicted wounds.  The risk to life of some prisoners is due to poor treatment and sometimes neglect by guards and police.  Another problem is this:  most Canadians are grateful that people in custody no longer pose a threat to the rest of us. That is understandable.  But most Canadians seldom ask what happened or why some perpetrators in custody die.  Many don’t care.  But care we must.

In the rear-view mirror of Portapique killings, we still have no clear insight into why the killer murdered 22 neighbours and strangers alike. One or two journalists agree we will never really know.

In the recent Saskatchewan murder rampage, without information from the alleged killers – we can’t know why they did what they did.  We can’t know how to prevent further mass murders.  In the last 30 years, here is the list of nine mass murders in Canada — how many did authorities analyse and promise to head off — next time.

These are troubled times. Society needs to know why these horrors happen and how to prevent them. If police don’t take every precaution to ensure the culprits live, the police are doing a huge injustice to us all.

For more on an investigation into Faqiri’s death in prison, listen to this excellent TVO podcast.

Featured Image: Man Under Threat, sculpture by Jimmy Boyle (Scottish)displayed in Hull, UK. In 1967 Boyle, a gangster, was jailed for life for killing another gangster. Originally from Glasgow, he was released after 14 years, he moved to Edinburgh to pursue his artistic career. He’s a novelist and a wine lover. (Photo Credit: abc.net.au)

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