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Sask. Indigenous leaders call for inquiry following damning report on police conduct in baby's death

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The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is calling for a full inquiry into the death of a 13-month-old boy following the release of a damning report into the conduct of Prince Albert police.

On Thursday, Saskatchewan's police oversight agency issued the findings of an investigation which found two officers failed to adequately protect Tanner Brass and should face discipline.

The boy's mother, Kyla Frenchman, sat silently during a news conference organized by the FSIN as her attorney addressed the media.

"What happened to Kyla Frenchmen and her child, baby Tanner is a travesty," Eleanore Sunchild said.

"We need to know what is going on with the Prince Albert police service. We demand and need a full-scale inquiry into baby Tanner's death," Sunchild said.

"There has been a breakdown of services by the Prince Albert police service and there needs to be a full-scale inquiry."

Following the release of the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) report, which said the boy's death was "tragic and potentially avoidable", Prince Albert police chief Jonathan Bergen announced his retirement.

The PCC investigators found the two officers were unaware they had the authority to enter the home where Tanner was inside with his father Kaij Brass, who is charged with second-degree murder in his son's death.

The officers had responded to the home after Frenchman called 911 using a neighbour's phone. According to the PCC, she told the operator she was worried for Tanner's safety and at least one of the officers was aware the conversation occurred.

"How does the police service, the entire chain of command, send officers out to serve and protect with confidence when those officers don't understand their authority or role when they get to those calls?" Sunchild asked.

"That goes above and beyond these two officers. There indeed is a grave issue, a serious issue with the Prince Albert police service," she said.

A photo of Tanner Brass and Kyla Frenchman provided to news media. (FSIN)

FSIN vice-chief Dutch Lerat also questioned the report's conclusion, that while the two officers neglected their duty, that neglect of duty did not extend to their supervisors or the police service itself.

"All of the blame is directed towards two young frontline officers," Lerat said.

"I know there are many good service members in the Prince Albert police service but what the report leaves out is the activities and the misconduct and the mismanagement of senior management," Lerat said.

He was also critical of how the report framed apparent inconsistencies between initial public accounts of the events leading up to Tanner's death and surveillance recordings observed as part of the PCC investigation.

"When Kyla interacted with the police, she was in shock and she was in trauma," Lerat said.

"It is completely understandable that she was not able to communicate clearly."

Unable to get access to her son and with all the city's women's shelters full, the PCC report said Frenchman agreed to let the officers take her to a holding cell.

The FSIN and Sunchild are both urging the police service to dismiss the two responding officers.

"The officers should be terminated, they should be fired and not be allowed to serve people or Indigenous people anymore. We hope that the Prince Albert Police Service deals with them," Sunchild said.

When announcing his retirement Bergen alluded to fractures within the police service and repeatedly mentioned the "personal attacks" he has endured.

When speaking with reporters, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said Bergen's statements are a distraction.

"This has nothing to do with Bergen's personal attacks, this has everything to do with getting true justice for the mother here," Cameron said.

"Stop talking like that, focus on Kyla. Focus on the real issue here … Focus on not ever letting this kind of incident happen again," Cameron said.

"There are still some questions that are unanswered, some stones that are unturned."

The PCC report said the Crown had declined to pursue criminal charges against the two officers because an autopsy could determine if Tanner died before the officers became involved.

Sunchild said Frenchman is exploring further legal options.

"[The police] knocked on the door, they were talking to the dad through the door. In an alcohol-fueled, drunken rage," Cameron said.

"They could have easily busted the door down."

The two officers were suspended from active duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

In the wake of Bergen's abrupt departure, the Saskatoon Police Service will provide an interim chief during the search for his replacement.

In a statement sent to news media Friday morning, Saskatchewan's public safety minister said the PCC report "highlights the need for immediate change within the Prince Albert Police Service."

"I am confident that the new interim chief of police will begin the process of change that is necessary," Christine Tell said.

The province launched a comprehensive review of the Prince Albert Police Service last fall. Tell said the results of the review will be released "in the coming weeks."

The police service is also currently the focus of two investigations, both related to fatal officer-involved incidents earlier this year.

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