Indigenous groups have questions about several in custody deaths in Prince Albert

PRINCE ALBERT — Indigenous organizations in Saskatchewan have questions about the Prince Albert Police Service following three in-custody deaths in less than a month.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Prince Albert Grand Council are calling for an immediate intervention by Policing Minister Christine Tell. “These in-custody deaths have raised serious concerns regarding the competence of the Prince Albert Police Service and their ability to serve the broader community in general,” said federation Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat in a statement.

“Equally concerning is the lack of transparency and public accountability. The police service is not being open about these incidents and the victims’ families and communities deserve answers.”

Other policing agencies within Saskatchewan are investigating the in-custody deaths including the RCMP and the Saskatoon Police Service.

The federation said its statement that it is worried the investigations could take months or even years to complete.

A spokesman for the Saskatoon Police Service said he cannot speculate how long their investigation will take.

Both Indigenous groups say they also want the Saskatchewan Health Authority to ensure oversight is provided to people in police custody who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions or other underlying conditions.

The first in-custody death happened on Oct. 11. The Prince Albert Police Service said a 35-year-old man was in their detention centre after being arrested days earlier for outstanding warrants.

He was found unresponsive in his cell one day before he was scheduled to appear in court.

The second in-custody death happened a day later. A 29-year-old died in hospital after they went into medical distress while Prince Albert police were investigating a disturbance.

The third in-custody death was Sunday when a 33-year-old man was arrested on outstanding warrants and was transported to the Prince Albert detention area to await a court appearance.

Police found him unresponsive in his cell about four hours later.

An independent observer has been assigned by the Ministry of Policing and Corrections in all three cases. The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the Prince Albert Police Service said they support the investigations. “Each is a tragedy for our community and a devastating loss for families who have lost loved ones,” the statement reads.

“As a police service, we recognize there are many questions, and we acknowledge concerns from community leaders, residents and advocacy groups about safety, supervision and oversight in police cells.”

The police service said it is also reviewing recommendations made during previous coroners’ inquests into in-custody death investigations.

“Previous recommendations, including the results of a 2014 inquest and recommendations from a coroner’s inquest following an in-custody death in 2018, are in place to support an enhanced response to detainees in medical distress, ongoing commitment to maintain and secure best video and audio coverage in the detention area, improved training for guards and matrons, and increased supervision and oversight of our detention area,” the police service said.

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