WARNING: Distressing content
The inquest looking in to the mass stabbing on James Smith Cree Nation and in the Village of Weldon heard testimony from the former common law partner of Myles Sanderson Thursday afternoon.
Vanessa Burns testified she first saw Myles in 2007 when he came to her family house over the Christmas holidays. She was formally introduced to him a short time later and the two eventually began a relationship. She said Myles was abusive to her throughout the relationship.
During their relationship the pair had five children, which she said wasn’t originally planned.
“It just happened,” she said.
On Sept. 2 Burns said Myles was messaging with someone on her phone and told her that they needed to give someone a ride to the bar in the Town of Kinistino. On the way back she said Myles got mad at her and said she was leading the other person in the vehicle on. Burns said she eventually punched Myles in the face in response to his verbal abuse.
“I was just so angry with him,” she said.
The assault by Myles continued while the two were driving back to James Smith. Burns said during the attack the vehicle almost rolled on a number of occasions.
“Sometimes I wish I did (roll the vehicle),” she said.
The two eventually arrived at Damien Sanderson’s house where Damien and Beverly Sanderson, the mother of both men intervened to stop Myles. Burns said when she was able to get away she left James Smith and went back to Saskatoon, where she lived. Burns added she was ashamed about what had happened.
“I was just so mad at myself for trusting him,” she said.
Later on Burns met up with her mother who brought four of her five children to Wakaw and Burns took them back to Saskatoon. Her oldest son stayed with her parents at James Smith. Burns explained she was scared Myles would come to the house in Saskatoon looking for her so she was prepared to flee out the back of the house if he showed up.
“I was scared,” she said.
On the day of the stabbing Burns woke up to messages from her oldest son who told her that Myles attacked her mother and father and that Myles had tried to kill him. Burns said her son asked her if she was selling drugs with Myles, to which she told him yes.
“He was very mad at me,” she said.
Originally when she heard about the violence Burns said she first thought that only her parents along with Christian and Lana Head had been attacked. She soon learned more people had been victimized. Burns was with some family members at a Tim Hortons in Saskatoon when she found out her father had been killed.
During their relationship Burns said she reported Myles to police on a number of occasions. When he was charged she said she would often drop the charges after Myles made her feel guilty about going forward with the charges.
Skye Sanderson, the former wife of Damien Sanderson was called to testify after Burns. Skye said she is still suffering after the mass stabbing on the Labour Day weekend in 2022.
“Angry still, broken and lost,” she said, when asked how she was doing by Coroner’s Council Tim Hawryluk.
Skye said she first met Damien at the Melfort fair and the two eventually began a relationship and soon after Skye got pregnant with their first child. After she got pregnant she testified Damien worked a number of different jobs to provide for them.
When asked by Coroner’s Council Hawryluk if she had a problem with addictions, Skye responded yes. She explained Damien’s addictions were a result of some mental health issues.
“The main thing he suffered from was his anxiety,” she said.
When the two were using substances, Skye said they would be abusive to each other. This resulted in Skye being deaf in one ear and also having issues with her jaw and eye. She said she would call the police on Damien, but added he never went to jail on any charges.
When asked about Myles, Skye described him as being evil and that she never liked it when he came around. She said Myles as well resented Damien for having a more stable life and family.
“I knew he was jealous of my husband,” she said.
Skye said Damien was afraid of Myles and explained her husband intervened on a number of occasions to protect Vanessa Burns from Myles when he would get physically abusive with her.
“Many times Damien has stopped Myles,” she said.
She testified Damien intervened when Myles started beating up Burns in front of their house. She remembered him coming back in and telling her that he was going to take Myles for a ride to calm him down, which was the last time she saw him alive.
Skye confirmed she called Melfort RCMP to get her vehicle back after Damien stopped replying to her messages. She was told the two were around the First Nation.
“I know for one thing they were drinking,” she said.
At the home where Skye’s vehicle was found she said she was confident Damien and Myles were in the house given the fact the vehicle was at the location. She as well testified the search of the house was permitted after she pressed the home owner to allow it, which is different from the testimony offered by the two RCMP officers who attended.
“Damien wouldn’t just leave my vehicle with someone,” she said.
Skye testified she was shown a photo by RCMP of Damien and told them the photo was an older one and that her husband was heavier than when the picture was taken.
Leading up to the mass stabbing Damien was spending time with Myles and when he got into bed told Skye that Myles told him he wanted to kill his common law partner along with a number of other people. Skye said Damien described Myles as being the devil.
“I knew Myles was up to something,” she said.
Skye added on previous occasions Myles had threatened to hurt her father, Christian Head along with Vanessa Burn’s father Earl Burns Sr.
More investigation needed
During her testimony Skye testified she phoned 911 in the early morning hours on Sept. 4 on a friends cell phone. The information caught Coroner’s Council Hawryluk by surprise. He asked her if she was sure she had her dates correct, to which she said she was sure. Hawryluk asked her for the name of the friend whose phone she used, which she provided him
“We’re going to have to do some more digging on this,” said Hawryluk.
He added due to this Skye may have to be called to testify again before the inquest.
Federal lawyer raises previous statements to police
The lawyer representing the federal Ministry of Justice Sean Sass brought up that Skye had given statements to police on three occasions after the mass stabbing.
“These statements don’t say anything about all these calls to police on Sept. 4,” he said.
In response to Sass’s question, Skye said only one of her interviews with police was recorded and that it was possible the officer taking her statement missed the information.
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