PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. -An investigation has found that officers who responded to a domestic violence call in Saskatchewan didn’t check on the well-being of a toddler and instead took the Indigenous mother to a police station in the hours before the child was killed.
The Public Complaints Commission report into last year’s death of 13-month-old Tanner Brass says two Prince AlbertPolice Serviceofficers neglected their duty.
The boy’s father, Kaij Brass, has been charged with second-degree murder and his trial is scheduled for next year.
“The circumstances on the morning of Feb. 10, 2022, amount to a tragic and potentially avoidable incident,” the report found.
“(Tanner) was, at all relevant times, vulnerable and in danger while inside the residence with (his father).”
Kyla Frenchman, the toddler’s mother, has called for the officers to be fired, alleging she was racially profiled when she called for help. The report found she went willingly to the police station because women’s shelters were full and there was nowhere warm for her to go.
The report says Frenchman called 911 early on the cold winter morning after she had already walked to an RCMP facility that was closed. She told 911 operators that her child’s father was intoxicated and had assaulted her.
When asked if she was concerned about the child’s safety, the report says the mother became emotional and alleged “he hits him when he puts him to bed.”
The two officers arrived six minutes later and spoke with the mother outside the home. The report says she told officers that the father was intoxicated and had pushed her down some steps.
Frenchman told police she just wanted to get her son and her clothes and wait for a ride to come from La Ronge, more than 200 kilometres north of the city, the report says.
The officers went to the front door and the father came to the window but refused to open the door. Officers later said that they believed he didn’t appear intoxicated and the mother didn’t want to pursue an assault investigation.
The officers determined they had no authority to enter the home or grounds to arrest the father. They were outside the house for 13 minutes and at no point did they attempt to check on the child’s well-being.
That was a failure of protocol, the report found. The officers had the authority to enter the home and would have been justified helping the mother retrieve her belongings and the child.
The officers also failed to follow the force’s intimate partner violence policy, which requires members “ensure the immediate safety of the complainant and any children who may be present,” the report says.
Five hours after the mother made the call for help, the report says a man called 911 indicating he had killed his baby.
“The totality of the circumstances demonstrates a series of compounded failures by (the officers) when they had a legal duty to investigate the 911 call by (the mother),” the report says.
The report also notes that the officers didn’t take any information regarding the father’s level of intoxication and whether it was safe for the man to be alone with the toddler.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has alleged the officers racially profiled Frenchman and accused her of being drunk before detaining her.
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron called for the officers to be held criminally accountable “for their failure to prevent the death of Baby Tanner.”
“All of those who were involved in Kyla and her family’s loss of young Baby Tanner should be fully investigated and held accountable,” Cameron said in a news release Thursday.
The commission’s report says officers were aware the mother was sober but there was no place for her to go. They said she could spend a few hours at the detention centre and she agreed.
Videos from the police car and the detention centre show that the mother was not handcuffed and she rested once she was placed in the cell, the report says.
The commission says the force doesn’t have a policy for lodging sober, consenting people in cells, and that places officers in a difficult position when encountering people with nowhere to go and no safe alternatives.
“Officers must either bring sober, consenting persons to cells or leave the person to fend for themselves in the harsh winter,”
the report says.
The police service had asked the commission, an independent civilian oversight agency, to look into the circumstances surrounding the toddler’s death. The service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Police Chief Jonathan Bergen previously said the two officers who responded were junior members with less than five years experience combined.
Michelle Ouellette, the commission chair, said the findings were submitted to the police chief to impose appropriate discipline.
Last year, the Saskatchewan government appointed a former Edmonton police chief to conduct an independent review of the force following the child’s death.
The review has been completed but Saskatchewan’s public safety minister has not said whether it will be publicly released.
The FSIN also called for changes to the Prince Albert force following the deaths of three Indigenous men in police custody in 2021. Those calls were renewed after another Indigenous man died last month following an encounter with officers that was later uploaded on social media.
Edward Dutch Lerat, second vice-chief of the federation, said the police service is failing to protect the most vulnerable people.
“Kyla and her family continue to mourn the loss of their beloved child.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023. By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon