No timeline for police oversight changes in Sask. after renewed calls on Stonechild anniversary

The province says it understands the need for more police accountability after First Nations leaders again called for a civilian oversight body, this time on the anniversary of the report into Neil Stonechild’s death, but that there is no timeline for changes to be made. 

Chiefs spoke at a news conference Wednesday held by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) to acknowledge the inquiry into what happened to Stonechild, who was found frozen to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon in 1990. 

The inquiry held 13 years after Stonechild’s death concluded he had been in police custody the night he died. The officers reported to have picked him up were fired but never charged.  

Chiefs at Wednesday’s news conference said the relationship between police and Indigenous people has changed since the era of the Stonechild report, but that the years-long fight for Saskatchewan to have an independent police oversight body continues. 

“There’s no reason why we can’t have that because there is still some filth and crud out there from certain members of police agencies,” said former FSIN Chief Lawrence Joseph.

“Under treaty we were promised that the Red Coats will protect us.” 

Neil Stonechild froze to death in 1990. (CBC)

The ministry said it is currently reviewing civilian oversight agencies in other provinces and consulting with police. 

FSIN Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat said chiefs recently met with Justice Minister Don Morgan and that they will meet with other cabinet ministers before the end of 2019. 

“I’m very confident that [changes] will happen and that timing is a work in progress,” said Lerat. 

Deaths and serious injuries involving police are currently investigated by other police services. For example, the Regina Police Service might investigate an incident involving RCMP officers. 

The investigations are overseen by an “independent observer,” such as a retired police officer, appointed by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

Other provinces have created dedicated agencies, such as the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., to investigate police-involved incidents that end in death or serious injury. 

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement Thursday it already has police oversight bodies such as the Public Complaints Commission, boards of police commissioners, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP and the Special Investigative Unit for the FSIN.

“However, the ministry also understands the need for further transparency, accountability, and ensuring public confidence in police services, specifically in areas that concern serious incidents involving police,” said the statement. 

It said there is no timeline for any changes to police oversight in Saskatchewan.

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