By Lloyd Dolha
The leadership of a remote, northern Saskatchewan First Nation said they will be closely following the investigation of the fatal shooting of a band member by the RCMP to ensure it’s properly conducted.
Once it’s over, The Clearwater River Dene [First] Nation (CRDN), “will determine whether any action, including legal action or a public inquest, is required in this matter, and in defense of the life and safety of members of [the] CRDN,” said the chief and council in a September 4/08 press release.
On the night of Tuesday, September 2nd, an RCMP officer shot and killed 38 year-old resident Harry Haineault, on the reserve located in La Loche, Sask., which is about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
The shooting death took place after two RCMP officers went to a home on the First Nation Tuesday night to arrest Haineault for outstanding criminal warrants.
“The subject fled the residence and a foot chase ensued between one RCMP member and the subject. This resulted in a physical altercation which escalated to the point where the RCMP member used lethal force,” said Sgt. Carole Raymond, in a short news release on Wednesday.
A single shot was fired and Haineault died at the scene.
In response to the shooting death, the Clearwater River Dene said they “will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all relevant facts about this incident come to light,” said the CRDN release.
“We will take steps to determine if excessive force was used, under the circumstances and, if all proper procedures and safeguards were followed by the RCMP.”
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), called for peace following the shooting death and pledged to work with all levels of government, including police agencies, to build safer First Nations communities.
“Everybody needs to be part of the plan. Police can’t do everything. We need to find solutions that will address alcohol and drug dependency, high rates of unemployment, health epidemics, the list goes on and on.” said FSIN Chief Lawrence Joseph.
Joseph acknowledged the risk on duty officers face and the fatalities they have suffered in recent years.
“Mentally, police are in a tough situation, especially in light of Mayerthorpe and Spiritwood,” said the chief, in reference to two incidents in which RCMP officers in Alberta and Saskatchewan were gunned down in responding to calls.
“But I still question the use of lethal force. Last spring, RCMP deployed a SWAT team to end peacefully an armed standoff in the Town of Indian Head. These are examples of where lethal force is not the only option,” he said.
RCMP officials said the deceased was facing 15 criminal charges, but refused to give any details of the allegations against him. They also refused to say whether he was armed at the time of the incident.
The RCMP’s Saskatoon-based major crimes unit is leading the investigation. The provincial Ministry of Justice has also assigned an “investigative observer” from the Saskatoon city police force.
But court documents have shown that Harry Haineault was wanted on various charges that include assault, resisting arrest, possession of a dangerous weapon and escaping custody.
Supt. Randy Beck, acting commander of the RCMP for Saskatchewan, said he intends to speak with the deputy minister of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing, as well as Chief Joseph and municipal police force leaders, about the root causes of what he called a “real increase in the number of challenges to the authority” in the province.
In the meantime, Joseph called for a public inquiry into the use of force by police in the province, noting that eight aboriginal people have been shot or injured by police in the province in the last 10 months, five of them fatally.
Joseph said he and FSIN vice-chief Glen Pratt, met with federal public Safety Minister Stockwell Day in June to push for an aboriginal peacekeeper plan in which peacemakers would work along side RCMP in finding peaceful solutions to conflict.
The FSIN is waiting for a decision regarding a federally-funded Peacekeepers program.
The federation has not received any response to their request for a public inquiry into the shooting death.
Darryl Hickie, Minister of Correction, Public Safety and Policing is unwilling to commit to a public inquiry. He maintains each shooting incident is independently under investigation and will receive a coroner’s inquest.
Haineault’s distraught brother Walter, had asked the RCMP officers involved to be pallbearers at the funeral, but received no reply.
“They didn’t give a courtesy call or nothing,” he said bitterly.
Harry Raineault was laid to rest on Monday.