The chief coroner in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan has announced plans to hold two public inquests into a stabbing spree earlier this month that left 12 people dead, including the alleged attacker, and injured over a dozen others.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Clive Weighill of the Saskatchewan Coroners Service said an inquest would be held into the deaths of 11 people who were killed on James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon on September 4.
The attacks in the Indigenous community and neighbouring village, approximately 320km (200 miles) north of Saskatchewan’s capital, Regina, marked one of the deadliest incidents of mass violence in Canadian history.
A separate inquest will be launched into the death of the main suspect, Myles Sanderson, who died in police custody after a days-long manhunt, Weighill said.
“The events that occurred require a methodical and complete investigation,” he told reporters.
An official with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Saskatchewan told reporters on September 7 that Sanderson went into “medical distress” shortly after officers arrested him following a highway chase.
But police so far have not released any more information about the exact circumstances of his death, despite questions from Canadian media outlets and other observers.
Weighill said on Wednesday that “the police and the coroner’s service are in the preliminary stages of their investigation” – a process that he said includes toxicology results, pathology and autopsy results, and the completion of the police investigation, among other things.
“As you can appreciate, an inquest cannot be held until the investigation is complete,” said Weighill, adding that the inquests could take place in late spring or early summer 2023.
He said the inquests – which involve presenting evidence about what happened to a jury, which can then make recommendations – will be open to the public and media. “It is my intention to have the jury wholly comprised of Indigenous persons,” he said.
Meanwhile, James Smith Cree Nation, an Indigenous community of approximately 1,900 people who live on the reserve, continues to grapple with the attacks.
“Where to begin? Or where to start? I’ve been thinking for the past few days, no words can emphasise the feelings that we’re going through,” James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns told reporters earlier this month.
Ten local residents were found dead, including Sanderson’s brother Damien, who was earlier wanted by police as a suspect in the stabbings and charged with first-degree murder in relation to the spree. Another person was killed in Weldon.
Asked whether Damien Sanderson now was considered a victim since he is included in the inquest into the 11 deaths on September 4, Weighill said on Wednesday that the coroner’s office has “made no leap to that at all”.
“It’s just that everything that happened was on September 4, that we believe, so as the coroner I’m allowed to put all those multiple deaths into one inquest,” he said.
Canadian media outlets reported that Myles Sanderson had a history of violence, which often got worse when he was intoxicated.
In May, he was listed as “unlawfully at large” after he stopped meeting with his parole officer following a statutory release from prison. The Canadian government has said there will be an independent investigation into that parole decision.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Weighill said the preliminary results of the autopsy for Myles Sanderson had found “no blunt-force trauma causing his death”.
“This is very, very preliminary, but that’s the best I can give you right now,” the chief coroner said. “It shows that there’s no outward pressure that would have caused his death.”