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James Smith Cree Nation victim's brother believes tragedy 'could have been prevented'

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A man who lost his brother and mother in the stabbing massacre on James Smith Cree Nation three months ago says Myles Sanderson, the perpetrator, shouldn’t have been released from prison.

“I think it could have been prevented if they held Myles in for his full sentence. I guess the parole board let him out early,” said John Kelly Burns.

Burns says his brother, Thomas Burns, 23, and his mother, Carol Burns, 46, died after being stabbed in the early morning hours of Sept. 4. He says they were visiting the community when the attack happened.

RCMP charged Myles Sanderson, 32, with first-degree murder for their deaths. In total, 11 people died in the massacre and 18 were injured, including one man from the nearby village of Weldon.

Burns says with Sanderson’s extensive criminal record, previous assault charges and drug use, he should not have been allowed to return to the community.

Sanderson’s criminal record shows 59 convictions since he was 18 years old, including assault with a weapon, domestic violence, assaulting a police officer and robbery.

When asked about implementing reforms to the parole system Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Parole Board of Canada operates independently.

“Making sure that people are accessing the proper kinds of mental health supports and addiction treatments while they're incarcerated is a piece of it. Making sure communities have better resources to deal with the epidemic of drug use that people are dealing with right now and the challenges that go with it,” Trudeau said during his visit to the community on Monday.

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns says it’s a struggle to think about how “the system failed our people.”

“And the board not notifying the First Nations is another (issue). I think working in collaboration on how to fix the system takes not just one person, it takes a whole community or a province to fix what is broken,” said the chief said.

On Monday, Trudeau reaffirmed support for a letter of intent signed with the federal government, province and Prince Albert Grand Council to create a tribal police force on James Smith.

“We’re seeing a very difficult situation not just here but in communities right across the country and we need to make sure we’re continuing to use all the tools we have to keep people safe,” said Trudeau.

The sister of Carol Burns and an aunt to Thomas Burns, Kelly Burns, says since the attack, her children are scared to walk in the community.

“We live on edge all the time. We wake up lonesome and scared, like do we have to worry about another incident like this happening again,” she said.

She would like the cameras and a security system for her home on James Smith and supports any measure that makes the community safer for her and her family such as security guards and police.

While visiting James Smith Cree Nation, Trudeau announced $42.5 million for the construction of a new mental wellness centre, renovation to the existing Sakwatamo Lodge on James Smith and Indigenous-led programs and services for James Smith band members.

An additional $20 million dollars over four years was committed to the Pathways to Safe Indigenous Communities Initiative. The federal government says it will build on the work of the Federal Pathway, to end violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people. This initiative is currently being used to support James Smith Cree Nation and other communities to develop and deliver community-based safety and wellness projects.

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