Saskatchewan. stabbings shed light on systemic prison release issues


In late May, a parole officer issued an arrest warrant for an offender with a violent criminal past who had just been released from a prison in Saskatchewan and had since disappeared.

More than 100 days later, Myles Sanderson remained unlawfully at large when he was named a suspect in a stabbing rampage that left 11 people dead – including his brother, Damien Sanderson, who was also named a suspect – and 18 others injured . in James Smith and Weldon Cree Nation, Sask.

After a four-day manhunt, Sanderson was arrested on a stretch of rural highway and died in custody after RCMP said he went into “medical distress”.

The tragedy has sparked scrutiny of how Sanderson managed to stay free in the months before the attacks and how authorities should deal with violent offenders who violate the rules of their release.

Sanderson’s case appears to reveal a flaw in the system.

While the Correctional Service of Canada says it’s up to the police to catch offenders who break their parole, police say the warrants for these suspects are among countless others that land on their desks to deal with.

“That’s the problem,” said Scott Blandford, a former police sergeant from London, Ont. “It’s a finger-pointing exercise.”

Sanderson had been released into the community in August 2021 on what is called statutory release, which takes effect when federal offenders have served two-thirds of their prison sentence.

Although Sanderson’s case has shed light on the measure, an expert says it gives offenders time to reintegrate into society after living in a “tightly controlled prison environment”.

“The vast majority are greatly helped when given a period of reintegration support,” Jane Sprott, professor of criminology at Metropolitan University of Toronto, said in an email.

According to her, the alternative is to “release them without any supervision or rehabilitation” after their prison sentence, which increases their risk of recidivism.

Four months after his release, Sanderson was found to have lied about his living conditions and his release was suspended.

It was not the first time he had been found in breach of such rules.

Parole papers show he had been convicted of 59 offences, 28 of which were for breach of parole conditions or failure to appear in court. His criminal record included violent assaults, including against people who were victims of his recent attacks.

Sanderson asked the parole board to overturn the suspension, the documents show, saying he stayed sober and found work.

Although his parole supervisor recommended that his release be revoked due to his “deceit”, the board decided in February to overturn Sanderson’s suspension and opted to release him with a reprimand.

But in May, the Correctional Service of Canada found him unlawfully at large and a parole officer issued a warrant for his arrest.

A copy of that warrant, obtained by The Canadian Press, shows Sanderson was listed as having no fixed address.

The Correctional Service says that in cases like his, prison officials contact an offender’s contacts to try to locate them, but it’s ultimately up to the police to get them in.

“(We) will work closely with the police to ensure they have all the information necessary to execute the warrant and remove the offender,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP members, said that unless it’s a high-profile case, parole authorities don’t communicate in a proactive with the police when an offender goes on the run.

So what often happens is that the name of the offender simply appears in a database. “They don’t pick up the phone.”

Blandford, the former police sergeant, said arresting parole violators usually falls to the bottom of the police department’s work pile because officers are too busy fielding other calls.

There are thousands of warrants issued every day across Canada, he said, and “there are only so many resources that can handle them.”

Last fall, the Saskatchewan government announced funding to create a special unit dedicated to capturing fugitives.

It would include eight RCMP officers and a crime analyst who would focus on apprehending “notorious” offenders who were at large.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore referenced the move when asked how Sanderson managed to remain a wanted fugitive until the attacks, saying that “given the number of people under warrant in the province , they must manage risky files”. received.

It is unclear whether the unit was actively investigating Sanderson’s case. Saskatchewan RCMP have not yet responded to a request for comment.

It’s also unclear whether a joint Corrections Service and parole board investigation into Sanderson’s release – announced by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino after the tragedy – will examine why Sanderson remained at large. until the attacks.

Both Sauve and Blandford said a policy change should be made so that peace officers work for parole and correctional authorities, so that these institutions can take a more active role in finding offenders rather than to rely solely on the efforts of the police.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 13, 2022