Sask. police accused of racism, incompetence after Indigenous baby’s death

It was a cold February night in Prince Albert, Sask., when a First Nations woman said she begged police to protect her baby. But hours later, 13-month-old Tanner Brass was found dead in a tragedy that has led to accusations of racism and incompetence into how local police handled the case.

Last month, Kyla Frenchman told Prince Albert Police her partner had kicked her out of their apartment into the cold, while he was locked inside with their son. Frantic, she said she pleaded with police to enter the home and take the boy, fearing for her son’s safety.

Instead, police arrested Frenchman, accusing her of being drunk. Several hours later, police were called back to the address after a report of a homicide and found baby Tanner dead. His father was charged with second-degree murder.

Frenchman believes her son would still be alive today if Prince Albert police had listened to her.

At a news conference in Saskatoon on Friday, Frenchman was so overwhelmed with grief, she was hardly able to speak. Instead, her prepared remarks were delivered by her lawyer, Eleanore Sunchild.

“I don’t want this to happen ever again to any other Indigenous woman in this province or this country,” Sunchild said, reading Frenchman’s statement. “I will not stop until I have justice for my baby Tanner.”

Sunchild said the death of baby Tanner “falls directly on the lap of Prince Albert police services.”

“It is their responsibility. It was their mistake, their error, their negligence that resulted in his death,” she said. “There needs to be accountability from all of those officers all of the individuals who were involved that night that resulted in the death of her child.”

Last week — a full month after the baby’s death — two Prince Albert police officers were suspended after an independent investigation was launched. Police Chief Jonathan Bergen described the officers who responded to the call as “junior,” with less than five years of experience between them.

Indigenous leaders say the police chief’s explanation doesn’t cut it.

“The excuse was they were rookies and they weren’t trained properly. Friends and relatives, you don’t need to be trained properly to walk 30 seconds to a door, walk into a house and see that a child was in danger with an alcohol-fuelled man that was in full rage,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said during the news conference.

“Those officers in question must be terminated without pay and be held accountable.”

There are calls for the immediate termination of Bergen as well systemic changes in the justice system, including more indigenous led police agencies and more indigenous officers.

“One of our women had called on the police for help, afraid for her baby, and the officers who attended did not recognize or care about her plea for help because they do not value First Nations lives,” said FSIN fourth Vice-Chief Heather Bear.

When asked by CTV News, Prince Albert police had no comment on Friday. The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission is investigating the police service’s role in the incident. That investigation is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Near the end of the news conference, the grieving mother found some strength to talk about what she’ll remember about her son.

“Tanner was a happy baby. He always loved to get up in the morning… especially when I turn on the TV and he’d come running as fast as he could,” Frenchman said.

“No woman should ever have to go through this.”

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