First Nations groups say police racism played a part in the death of a young child in Prince Albert, Sask., last month.
They’re calling for an inquest and the firing of Prince Albert’s police chief and the officers involved in the case.
“This is plain racism, and it’s hard to see this child’s life was lost because of that. This has traumatized many people, and it’s sad to know things like this are still happening, ” said Thunderchild First Nation Chief James Snakeskin.
According to a police news release, officers went to a home in Prince Albert, about 130 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, early in the morning of Feb. 10 after receiving a complaint of a family dispute. One person was transported to police cells.
Police say they went back to the same residence five hours later for a report of a homicide involving a child and found a deceased 13-month-old boy, Tanner Brass.
The baby’s father, Kaij Brass, has been charged with second-degree murder.
Snakeskin, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron and others hosted a news conference Wednesday morning to say police failed to do their job. They said that when police arrived the first time, they assumed the mother’s fears and behaviour were alcohol-related and arrested her.
In fact, the mother and child were fleeing domestic violence, they said. Police did not perform a welfare check on Tanner, nor was the Ministry of Social Services brought in for Tanner’s protection, they said.
Prince Albert Police Service officials were not immediately available for comment, but in a news release last month, they said they are committed to transparency and accountability. They said the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission has been notified and is investigating.
FSIN vice-chief Edward Lerat said Tanner’s mother was sober and repeatedly pleaded for police to check on Tanner. He said it’s “shocking and vile incompetence” by police.
Lerat and FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron say the provincial government has the authority to step in and remove these officers, and should do so immediately.
“This woman was treated differently because she was First Nations. She wasn’t believed by these officers when she said she and her baby were in danger. She was taken into custody while innocent Baby Tanner’s life was taken,” Cameron said.
Cameron said it would have taken 30 seconds to walk back into the house and check on the baby.
“This poor, young mother. We demand change, and we demand it today,” Cameron said.
They said they’re working hard to support Tanner’s mother, Kyla Frenchman.
“He was such a happy baby who was always smiling. He was adorable and had big squishy cheeks,” Frenchman said in a written statement. At the news conference, Frenchman came to the podium, but was unable to speak.
The First Nations groups are calling for an inquest and the immediate termination of two police officers, one sergeant and Prince Albert’s police chief.
“We all have a responsibility,” said Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte. “Our most precious, valuable resource is a child.”