A prime suspect in one of Canada’s worst mass stabbings died while in police custody, and calls for transparency around the circumstances of his death are growing as law enforcement refuse to provide details.
Myles Sanderson, 30, was apprehended by the RCMP—Canada’s federal police force—late Wednesday afternoon, after a four-day manhunt in rural Saskatchewan and a stabbing spree that left 10 people dead and 18 others injured. Sanderson’s brother Damien, 31, also a suspect, was found dead early Monday morning near the James Smith Cree Nation, where many of the stabbings took place; police said he died of wounds that were not self-inflicted.
After initially announcing they had captured Myles Sanderson Wednesday afternoon, several hours later police said he, in fact, had died.
In a press conference Wednesday evening, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said police officers surrounded Sanderson’s vehicle following a high-speed chase and arrested him.
“Shortly after his arrest, he went into medical distress. Nearby, EMS [emergency medical services] were called by police to attend the scene and he was transported to a hospital in Saskatoon. He was pronounced deceased at the hospital,” Blackmore said.
She said an autopsy will be conducted on Sanderson’s body, the results of which will be public. She said an independent investigation into Sanderson’s death has also been requested. Quoting law enforcement sources, Global News reported that Sanderson died of self-inflicted injuries.
“I can’t speak to exactly what occurred on scene,” Blackmore said, adding that authorities on scene were “taking life-saving measures.”
But many questions remain, including how Sanderson could have died when in police custody; what kind of medical attention he received—if he overdosed, was he given naloxone; and what police know about his motives.
“His motivation may, at this time and forever, may only be known to Myles,” Blackmore said.
On Twitter, many journalists decried the secrecy around Sanderson’s death. The RCMP’s lack of transparency has been a central theme in a public inquiry into Canada’s worst mass killing, which took place in 2020.
“It is absolutely bonkers that RCMP can't give any real details into how Myles Sanderson died, considering he died in police custody. With a ‘medical distress’ death, the paramedics should know the cause of death this far after,” tweeted CTV reporter Mackenzie Gray.
Speaking to Global News, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the federal government also has “questions” as to how Sanderson died under police’s watch.
While Blackmore said the province “can breathe a sigh of relief,” not everyone feels that way in light of the lack of answers.
“It just prolongs the mistrust that we have with an entity that's supposed to keep us safe,” said Jenna Forbes, executive director of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society.
Forbes said Sanderson’s death is a reminder that Indigenous people are not necessarily safe in police custody.
“You kind of think that the person, once they're in custody, will be safe and get to trial and you get your answers. But so many have died in police custody.”
Forbes said the victims of these crimes deserve to have answers immediately, not months or years down the road, after reviews and investigations are completed.
Often, she said, Indigenous communities have to fight to get any answers, by filing complaints and freedom-of-information requests and applying pressure. Even when investigations are completed, there often are no consequences for police, she said.
“You're in the middle of grief and just trying to keep your head above water, then you've got to fight for these things that should be mandatory.”
The RCMP were notoriously secretive about their actions during and after the 2020 mass shooting in Portapique, Nova Scotia, in which a gunman killed 22 people. Only an inquiry held this year revealed the extent of police missteps, including long lag times in warning the public that the shooter was on the loose. The inquiry also found that RCMP were secretive with the public about certain details in that massacre, including the types of weapons used by the killer.
Forbes said those most impacted by the stabbing spree may now have to live without knowing why their loved ones were killed.
“There was a significant amount of hope once they captured this person. And now that hope has gone. And it's very difficult to wrap your mind around that kind of grief, knowing that you could have had answers,” she said. “It just adds more trauma to the whole entire situation.”
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