WARNING: Distressing content.
The Corner’s Inquest looking in to the mass stabbings on James Smith Cree Nation on the Labour Day weekend in 2022 is now underway.
The inquest got underway Monday morning at the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort with jury selection, where six jurors and two alternates were picked. Jury selection took the entire morning and stretched into the early afternoon after someone who was previously put on the jury was excused.
A number of potential jurors were excused by inquest Coroner Blaine R. Beaven due to a range of factors, including one not being a Canadian citizen and another being related to both victims and accused in the mass stabbing. A number of potential jurors were also excused due to health reasons.
RCMP officer first to testify
The first witness called Monday afternoon was Staff Sgt. Robin Zentner, a member of the Saskatchewan RCMP’s Major Crimes Unit based out of Regina. Zentner, a supervisor, was called early in the morning and was originally told that one person was dead on the First Nation. By the time his team left Regina, the number of people dead had gone up to five.
During his testimony Zentner provided a powerpoint presentation about the investigation into the stabbings which included a range of information about the events and the suspect. The powerpoint was compiled from information drawn from witness interviews along with information garnered from analyzing the crime scenes. Text messages sent by a number of people were also part of the presentation.
Zentner explained over 500 RCMP employees worked to investigate the mass stabbings.
“This investigation was the largest investigation in Saskatchewan RCMP history,” he said.
The presentation was similar to the one presented by the RCMP in April of 2023.
Zentner said suspect Myles Sanderson had over 70 convictions, many of which involved violence.
“His criminal history began in 2004,” he said.
Before the violence began the RCMP investigation found that on Sept. 2 Myles Sanderson was driving with Vanessa Burns on the First Nation. Zentner said Myles was selling cocaine and the two eventually got into an argument which escalated.
“Myles struck her in the head with a scale,” he said.
The attack by Myles happened at the home of Vanessa’s parents, where Damien Sanderson was also present. The two brothers eventually left the home together. Text messages between Skye and Damien Sanderson show Damien was trying to calm his brother down for quite awhile after the two had left the home.
“Myles and Damien did not return home,” said Zentner.
According to a witness the brothers stopped at a number of houses where Myles sold cocaine. They also made a trip to Kinistino where they picked up alcohol.
The inquest heard a 911 call made by Skye Sanderson, Damien’s wife who called police asking the RCMP to recover her vehicle, which Damien and Myles left the house in. During the time RCMP was looking for Damien, Skye was messaging Damien and got a number of messages back, including an ominous one.
“I’m down to die, me and my brother,” Damien wrote.
Damien as well wrote to Skye telling her he wasn’t scared to die.
Staff Sgt Zentner stressed at no time when they were looking for the stolen vehicle was Myles name mentioned to them nor were they made aware of any threats of violence. He added with hindsight the messages and what they meant are clear now, but may not have been completely evident at the time.
“There was something that Damien and Myles had in the forefront,” he said.
Sister of victim hopes for answers
A number of members from James Smith Cree Nation were present as the proceedings got underway Monday. Support staff and rooms were available to provide help to those who needed it. There was also a reserved section of seats for families at the front of the hearing room.
One of the members in attendance was Barbra Marion, who’s brother Christian Head was killed. Marion described the day of the mass stabbing when she got a call telling her that her brother had been stabbed. She said she went to his house, which is a short distance from her on the First Nation where she found him along with his partner Lana.
“It was horrible,” she said.
Marion said was not originally planning to attend the inquest but eventually changed her mind. She explained she is hoping to get answers about why her brother was killed.
“I decided to come for my own peace,” she said.
Chief Coroner talks inquest goals
Speaking to media before the proceedings got started Monday morning Chief Coroner Clive Weighill explained the inquest has some straight forward goals that it is looking to accomplish.
“The objective is to have the story told, honour those victims that died on that day and try to come up with some recommendations that will help prevent this happening again in the future,” he said.
With the suspect in the killings dead, Weighill, said holding a Coroner’s Inquest is the best way for everyone involved to find out what happened on the Labour Day weekend in 2022.
“This is the only way that the families and the public can hear exactly what happened,” he said.
(Clive Weighill speaking to media before the start of the inquest Monday morning. Photo by Michael Joel-Hansen.)
(Top Photo. Photos of those killed were displayed on a table which people passed by on their way into the hearing room. Photo by Michael Joel-Hansen.)
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