Security Team Transformation Strengthens RCMP and Indigenous Relations After Mass Stabbing

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Despite the profound lack of significant change in policing since last year’s horrific mass stabbing at a First Nation community in Saskatchewan, there has been a significant shift in the community’s relationship with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore identifies the establishment of a new security team within the James Smith Cree Nation as a transformative factor in local law enforcement dynamics. The team, comprised of 28 members, serves as an invaluable resource, providing an additional layer of surveillance which enhances the work of the RCMP, particularly when extra officers are needed.

This security initiative was spurred by a devastating incident last year when Myles Sanderson, aged 32, undertook a deadly rampage throughout the Labour Day weekend that resulted in 11 deaths and 17 injuries. Since that fateful weekend, the security team has worked tirelessly not only to ensure the safety of the community but also to help rebuild trust and a sense of security among its residents.

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The James Smith Cree Nation is currently commemorating the tragic anniversary of the mass stabbing, providing a space for grief-stricken families to unite in mourning. The community struggles with lingering trauma, with some members opting to leave permanently and others striving tirelessly to restore the community’s erstwhile cohesiveness and communal spirit.

Blackmore often expresses her admiration for the community’s resilience, but acknowledges the lasting poignancy of the traumatic event that impacted both residents and first responders. Increased concerns about safety are prevalent, as demonstrated by a recent situation in which a man was apprehended after threatening locals with a machete.

Although the community continuously strives to establish its own police service, as expressed by the community’s justice and policing director Eddie Head, he admits such a goal might not be met before at least five years from now. Nevertheless, the community is making steady progress, underpinned by the cooperative relationship with the Melfort detachment situated 40 kilometers southeast.

Meanwhile, Sanderson, who had prior history of violence, was at large before the horrific stabbings despite being on parole. In the wake of Sanderson’s heinous act, the Parole Board of Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada have collaborated on an investigation to assess the circumstances surrounding his release.

Blackmore argues that while it often remains impossible to accurately anticipate someone’s behavior, it is pertinent to devise a system enabling the identification of more threatening individuals. She asserts that efforts are being made to apprehend those charged with serious crimes, constantly analyzing various risk factors to prioritize cases.

She also acknowledges the instrumental role of the Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team and the Crime Reduction Team in enhancing safety and security measures. Drawing from the past experience of the tragic mass stabbing, Blackmore is a strong proponent of pre-emptive measures like the “tabletop scenario”, a safety drill that prepares participants for potential mass-casualty situations.

Paving the way for future emergency response solutions, an independent officer review conducted by Alberta’s RCMP has been completed to assess the police’s handling of the stabbing incident. This review, along with recommendations for improvement, is expected to be released in 2024, after two forthcoming inquests in January – one examining the victims’ deaths, the other investigating Sanderson’s death in custody. As Blackmore reflects – should another horrific incident occur – it is vital to learn from past lessons and integrate this knowledge into future protocols.