An Indigenous woman in Saskatchewan wants police officers fired over their response to a domestic dispute in which she says she was detained and her 13-month-old son left with a man accused of killing him.
“No mother should ever have to go through this. No mother should have to feel this pain,” Kyla Frenchman said in a statement Wednesday. “He was such a happy baby who was always smiling.”
The Prince Albert Police Service responded to Frenchman’s home on the morning of Feb. 10.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, speaking on Frenchman’s behalf, alleges officers racially profiled her and accused her of being drunk. They detained her and left the toddler with his father.
“They locked her up, lied, and said she was drunk when she was not. This is criminal negligence that would be disgusting in any country,” federation Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat said in Saskatoon. “They didn’t care about the safety of the First Nations baby.”
Kaij Brass was subsequently charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tanner Brass.He was arrested when police returned to the home about five hours after their first visit.
The federation, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said police didn’t do a welfare check on Tanner or bring in the Ministry of Social Services.
Federation Chief Bobby Cameron said Frenchman made the initial 911 call because she was fearful for their safety.
“When Kyla put the call in, it was clear, she said (to police) ‘my baby’. They get to the residence and detain her. Again she said ‘my baby.’ In the cop car, she said ‘my baby’ and in the cells, she said ‘my baby,”’ Cameron said.
Frenchman, the federation and other Indigenous groups are also calling for the officers involved in the initial response to be fired, along with Prince Albert police Chief Jonathan Bergen.
Cameron also wants Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Policing and Corrections to investigate the police service and accused officers of being racist against Indigenous peoples.
“The officers would have taken the utmost care and attention if that baby was white, but we’re First Nation and we’re being subjected to horrendous, ignorant behaviour from these types of officers,” Cameron said.
“So we’re angry. And we expect and demand justice and immediate change and immediate results.”
Prince Albert police did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
But on the day after the boy’s death, Bergen said the service was reviewing how police responded to the call at the home and that the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission had been notified and was investigating.
“The death of a child is a tragedy that leaves family and loved ones devastated,” the police service said in a Feb. 11 release.
“As an organization, there is nothing we can say to lessen the grief and torment at this shocking loss of a deeply loved child from our community.”
On Feb. 16, Bergen announced the appointment of a new inspector to oversee the patrol section of the police service. In a news release, the service said the appointment followed the death of a young child in the community on Feb. 10.
“Specific details about the police response or the circumstances of the file cannot be disclosed due to the investigation now underway,” the service said. “However, in the days since, Chief Bergen has determined that a structure change is needed within the organization.”
Bergen said before the change, the inspector on duty was responsible for the patrol division, police detention and custody.
“We know that our police officers face an increasing number of calls for service each year, and it has become more difficult to manage every call as thoroughly as required,” Bergen said in the release.
“We need to make sure we are fully compliant with policy, legislation, and best practices, and that is driving this change.”
Last year, three Indigenous men died in the custody of Prince Albert police, Cameron said.
Thunderchild First Nation Chief James Snakeskin said the death of the toddler has affected many other First Nations.
“This is plain racism and it’s hard to see this child’s life was lost because of that,” he said in a statement “This has traumatized many people and it’s sad to know things like this are still happening.”