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Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan call for full inquiry into death of toddler

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Indigenous leader Bobby Cameron got up from his chair, walked to the back of the room and then returned to his seat, taking 19 seconds.
Kyla Frenchman, mother of Tanner Brass, wipes a tear at a joint media event organized by The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatoon, Wednesday, on March 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Indigenous leader Bobby Cameron got up from his chair, walked to the back of the room and then returned to his seat, taking 19 seconds. 

The chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said Friday it’s the same amount of time police officers in Prince Albert, Sask., could have taken during a domestic violence call to check on the well-being of 13-month-old Tanner Brass. 

Instead, says a report by the Public Complaints Commission, the toddler was left with his father and his mother, Kyla Frenchman, was taken to a police station. Five hours later, the boy was killed. 

The report released Thursday into the February 2022 case found the two officers neglected their duty.

The boy’s father, Kaij Brass, has been charged with second-degree murder and his trial is scheduled for next year. 

“Nineteen seconds is all they had to do to go and save that young baby,” Cameron said at a news conference with other chiefs. “We have the justice system that has failed our First Nations people.”

Chiefs said they want a full inquiry into the case and have called for the officers involved to be fired. 

Indigenous leaders wrapped a blanket around Frenchman at Friday's news conference as a gift to help her heal. 

Eleanore Sunchild, who is Frenchman’s lawyer, said her client is considering legal action against Prince Albert police. 

Sunchild said the report shows significant changes need to be made.

It found the officers weren't following protocol when they determined they had no authority to enter the home or grounds to arrest the father. The officers were outside for 13 minutes and did not attempt to check on the child. 

It said officers also failed to follow the intimate partner violence policy, which requires members to ensure complainants and children are safe. 

“How does the police service, the entire chain of command, send officers out to serve and protect with confidence when those officers don't understand their authority or roles when they get to those calls?” asked Sunchild. 

The report stays Frenchman told a 911 operator at 5:44 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2022, that the father had hurt the child before. Officers were then dispatched. When they arrived three minutes later, she told officers the father was intoxicated and had pushed her down some steps. 

Frenchman had wanted to get her child and belongings, and wait for a ride to La Ronge, 200 kilometres north.

However, an officer told her she could not stay outside in the cold with the child because it would be a long wait. After speaking with the father through the window, officers determined they had no grounds to arrest him or enter the home.

The report said the officers didn’t take any information regarding the father’s level of intoxication and whether it was safe for him to be alone with the toddler.

The officers then tried to find a place for Frenchman to stay, but all the women’s shelters were full. One officer determined the child was safer "in the warmth of the house with his father" than outside in the cold waiting.

The officers then suggested she could stay at the police station for a few hours, which she agreed to do. The report said she was sober.

Frenchman stayed in a cell and was released at around 9 a.m. At 10:45 a.m., police received a call from a man indicating he had killed his baby.

Prince Albert police are to determine the discipline for the officers, but Sunchild said management and the entire police service needs to be held responsible.

“There indeed is grave and serious issues with the Prince Albert Police Service,” Sunchild said. “This was a preventable tragedy.”

Prince Albert Police Service Chief Jonathan Bergen announced his retirement on Thursday after the release of the report. 

He said the move is in the best interest of the department and the city, but went on to accuse others of personal attacks against him in what he described as “character assassination.” 

Bergen did not name who had made the attacks, but said most have been anonymous. 

Indigenous leaders are awaiting another report from the provincial government, which conducted an independent review into Prince Albert police. The force has been criticized for several cases involving Indigenous people. 

Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell said in a statement the report is to be released in the coming weeks.

“This situation was tragic and the details now released highlight the need for immediate change within the Prince Albert Police Service,” Tell said. “I am confident that the new interim chief of police will begin the process of change that is necessary.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2023.

— By Jeremy Simes in Regina

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the last name of Kyla Frenchman.

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