Saskatchewan’s public safety minister says she is considering releasing a report that investigated Prince Albert police amid ongoing concerns from Indigenous leaders over serious incidents in the community connected to the force.
Christine Tell, minister of corrections, policing and public safety, told reporters Wednesday she couldn’t provide the report’s details, but said it’s worthwhile for the public to see.
“I think that when things are released, then there’s those fulsome conversations (where) everybody knows what everybody else knows,” Tell said.
“And I do believe in a process of renewal, a process of making the necessary incremental changes. It all needs to be done co-operatively with the board of police commissioners, (Prince Albert) Police Service, the ministry. And I think it’s good for the public to have a look and see.”
A provincial spokesperson had initially said it had no plans to publicly discuss the release of the report, saying the work is “inherently sensitive and often requires a certain degree of discretion and confidentiality,” but Tell’s remarks suggest a change in tune.
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Last year, the Saskatchewan government appointed former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht to conduct an independent review of the force following ongoing concerns over operations.
Prince Albert is 140 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations urged accountability after an altercation between a man and police left him brain-dead.
The man, Boden Umpherville, has since died.
Umpherville’s family alleged officers used excessive force during a police stop in early April.
The Saskatchewan Serious Incident Response Team, which looks into serious incidents involving police, is investigating.
The Prince Albert Police Service has said it can’t comment.
Vice Chief Edward Dutch Lerat with the federation has said Indigenous leaders and community members have been awaiting the results of the review into the police service.
“It’s not just your organization here but also the community in Prince Albert and the First Nations in Prince Albert … we are all anticipating the results of that audit,” he said.
Lerat said it’s important that there is transparency because Indigenous people feel like they have not received justice for a string of recent tragedies that involved police.
The police service came under scrutiny last year following the death of a 13-month-old boy in February 2022.
The child’s mother alleged that when she called police for help in the hours before his death, she was taken into custody because officers racially profiled her. The boy’s father was later charged with second-degree murder in the child’s death.
The federation also called for changes following the deaths of three Indigenous men in custody in 2021.
When asked about these incidents, Tell said “it is concerning to the people of Prince Albert, it’s concerning to the government of Saskatchewan.”
However, she said the incidents “are not the genesis” of the reasons why the province conducted a review.
Tell said there were “a number of incidents,” but couldn’t provide details.
She also declined to say whether there were issues with management at the police service.
“When you have a number of people dying in custody in probably higher than what we have seen in other municipalities, then, of course, my radar goes up, and our radar goes up,” she said. “That doesn’t mean there was anything wrong, but there’s a higher number than what has previously been experienced in other municipalities.”
A Prince Albert police spokesperson said all questions should be directed to the ministry because the province conducted the review.
The spokesperson said the police service has been supportive of the inquiry.
Opposition NDP justice critic Nicole Sarauer said she would like the report to come out to ensure full transparency.
She said she hopes it can spur public discussion and improvements.
“(Police) are given an elevated role in our society, they’re allowed to carry guns, and in return we expect a level of accountability and transparency,” she said. “We want to see that the minister is respecting that, as well.”
Tell said she remains confident in the police service and has no concerns about its quality.
She said the government will need about two weeks before it decides on releasing the report.
– With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2023.
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