Sask. First Nations groups call for inquiry, accountability following report into baby's death
First Nations leaders and a grieving mother say a recent report into the death of infant Tanner Brass doesn't go far enough.
They're calling for an inquiry, criminal charges against a number of Prince Albert, Sask., police officers and the release of all the recordings and documentation in the case.
Tanner's mother, Kyla Frenchman, attended a news conference in Saskatoon with First Nations leaders on Friday. She did not speak, but was wrapped in a ceremonial blanket.
"They failed Kyla, an Indigenous woman, and her child. We need answers. We need the Prince Albert Police Service to be held accountable," Frenchman's lawyer, Eleanore Sunchild, said.
Sunchild said Tanner's death was caused by both negligence and racism.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron agreed.
"This isn't over. It ain't over by a long shot," Cameron said. "What they did is despicable."
A report released this week by Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission (PCC) relied on evidence from the responding officers, in-car video recordings, audio recording of a 911 call, dispatch records, cellphone records, CCTV recordings, autopsy reports, policy documents and other elements.
The Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) requested an investigation because of concerns that officers' actions — or inaction — resulted in the death.
The report found that in February 2022, Frenchman made a 911 call from a neighbour's phone to police and told them her baby was in danger. Police were dispatched to a Prince Albert home. Police took Frenchman to the police station, but declined to enter the home to check on Tanner, who was inside with a man who was intoxicated and had allegedly beaten Frenchman.
Several hours later, officers were called back to the residence by the man who said he'd killed the infant. Tanner was found dead.
On Thursday, hours after the release of the report, Prince Albert police Chief Jonathan Bergen announced his retirement. The FSIN, Sunchild and others have been calling for Bergen to be fired or resign for months.
Bergen said he and his family have faced relentless harassment and criticism over the past few years, much of it from within the force. He said it would be difficult to discipline these two officers or take other action because it would be seen as vindictive, given his own unpopularity.
Bergen said in a statement he chose to retire, but during the news conference, Cameron thanked Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell for forcing Bergen out.
Cameron, Sunchild and others are also calling for a full release of the 911 call and all other documentation. They are demanding a full inquiry to reveal more about the case and Prince Albert police generally. And they want criminal charges laid against any officers who they say could have prevented the infant's death.
Release of second report promised
They also noted there is a second report, done by an Edmonton expert contracted by the Saskatchewan government. They demanded its immediate release.
On Friday, after the news conference, Tell's office confirmed the existence of the Prince Albert Police Service Special Inquiry final report and promised to release it publicly "in the coming weeks."
Tell, in a statement, also thanked the Public Complaints Commission for its work.
She said it "provides a valuable service to the people of Saskatchewan and helps ensure that our municipal police services remain accountable. I thank the commission for its work and offer my deepest sympathies to the family of Tanner Brass. This situation was tragic and the details now released highlight the need for immediate change within the Prince Albert Police Service.
"I am confident that the new interim chief of police will begin the process of change that is necessary.
"I look forward to the continued co-operation of the Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners as they move forward during this challenging time."