Saskatchewan’s Chief Coroner is talking about the pair of inquests set to examine the violence at James Smith Cree Nation.

Recently the Office of the Chief Coroner announced that due to the ongoing RCMP investigation the two inquests which will be looking at the deaths in the mass stabbing along with the death of the suspect in police custody will be pushed back to January of 2024. Chief Coroner Clive Weighill explained the decision came after consultations with the RCMP.

“They’re still receiving new information and their investigation won’t be probably completed until late summer and then we’ll need time to have our disclosure packages and get all the information ready for the inquest,” he said.

In an email response to MBC Radio News the Saskatchewan RCMP confirmed their investigation into the stabbings on James Smith Cree Nation and in the Village of Weldon is continuing. The statement said RCMP welcome the inquest and also explained there are various reasons for the process taking longer.

“In addition to analyzing evidence, notes, interviews, etc., investigators are awaiting a number of expert reports and forensic findings. Prior to an inquest, the RCMP will provide information for disclosure to the Department of Justice, Canada. This disclosure process began when the inquests were initially announced in the fall. Given the sheer size, scope and complexity of this investigation, it’s expected disclosure will continue on an ongoing basis leading up to the inquests,” the email statement said.

The Chief Coroner said he has met with leadership from all three bands which make up James Smith Cree Nation. He added he has regularly been providing them updates via email about any developments. Weighill said while the inquests have been pushed back, work is still ongoing to prepare for the them. He explained his office has been looking to find the appropriate place to host the inquests.

“We’re looking at a larger venue that will have break out rooms for the jury and for the family, Indigenous Service Canada is providing a lot of support for us and the family,” he said.

Weighill said his office has also determined the person who will be presiding over the inquest along with the person who will be acting as coroner’s council. Weighill added the presiding coroner is someone who has connections to northern Saskatchewan.

“The presiding Inquest Coroner will be Blaine Beaven, he’s been (a) Inquest Coroner for us for a few years now, he’s Indigenous and he’s a lawyer that practices law mainly in northern Saskatchewan,” he said.

Currently one party, James Smith Cree Nation has applied for standing at the inquest, which will allow the First Nation through a lawyer or representative to ask questions of witnesses at the inquest. Weighill said they are hoping to be able to meet with impacted families in the future to explain to them their rights as it relates to the inquest.

“We’ll just talk to the families, because it’s not necessary that they have a lawyer, they can be granted standing without a lawyer,” he said.

When it comes to selecting the juries for both inquests, the chief coroner said his office will be following regular procedure which involves drawing names of possible jurors from the area which is around James Smith Cree Nation.

“We’ll be following the normal format that we’ll be drawing names from the judicial centre around the James Smith area, no specific persons names would be drawn from James Smith itself, that would be much too close for anybody on that First Nation to have to sit on that jury,” he said.

(Top Photo: People gather for a candle light vigil in Prince Albert after the stabbings on James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon. Photo Courtesy of Michael Joel-Hansen.)