Of Manhunts and Quick-Release Parole Boards
News came, as a relief last Wednesday, that Myles Sanderson, the second of two brothers sought for the murder of 10 people in Saskatchewan and the injuring of 18 others, was no longer a threat to public safety. After a 4-day manhunt, by Saskatchewan RCMP and a Dangerous Persons Alert issued for Alberta and Manitoba, Myles Sanderson was arrested by the RCMP but died shortly after being taken into custody. Police reports say that he died of unspecified “self-inflicted injuries.”
Damien Sanderson, younger brother of Myles, had also been sought in connection with the stabbings; he was found dead on Monday on the James Smith Cree Nation reserve where most of the violence had taken place. (There were also stabbings in nearby Weldon, SK). Details surrounding Damien’s death are unclear, although an RCMP statement indicated that he had died of wounds that “did not appear to be self-inflicted.”
For the families and communities that have lost loved ones, there are no words that can adequately describe the pain they are feeling. Our prayers and thoughts are with them . . . but we know that is not enough. We must, as a society, take practical steps to prevent such horrific tragedies in the future.
The RCMP had been looking for Myles Sanderson since May, when he failed to report to his parole officer. We learned, during the manhunt, that Myles had been granted parole in the summer of 2021, notwithstanding his 59 previous convictions for assault, assault with a weapon, assault of a police officer and robbery. In November, 2021, in spite of parole violations, his parole board decided not to put him back behind bars. They issued this statement: “It is the board’s opinion that you will not present an undue risk to society if released on statutory release and that your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration to society as a law-abiding citizen.”
They were terribly wrong. Their flawed judgment call resulted in 12 deaths, including the two suspected murderers, and 18 persons seriously injured. Parole boards have a solemn responsibility, not only to serve what they believe are the best interests of a convicted criminal, but even more importantly, public safety.
Much of our society (like the members of this parole board) has adopted a mindset that focuses its mercy and compassion on the perpetrators of violent crime, not realizing that by withholding justice from those who have wantonly violated the law and caused harm to others, they are in fact denying mercy and justice to those who deserve it: innocent, peaceful, law-abiding citizens.
Of course, we also, as a society, must look at the factors in a person’s life that trigger violent behaviour, especially at a young age. We know, even from the parole board documents, that Myles was a drug addict and that drugs and alcohol had the effect on him of overriding any social restraints or conscience he may have known when sober and clean. These same drugs are now being recklessly decriminalized in BC.
If we go back even farther, we learn that Myles’s mother and father separated when he was 9, and he spent the following years bouncing back and forth between two households described as places of violence and drug abuse. I don’t bring this up to make excuses for Myles’s crimes. Every person knows that it’s wrong to assault or murder an innocent human being. However, the damage inflicted on a child’s psyche (and ultimately on society) by broken homes, unrestrained drug use and exposure to violent behaviour is very real. Some young people absorb the pain, reason their way through it, find good counsel and spiritual strength to break the cycle and become productive, well-balanced citizens . . . but others choose to lash out and express their pain by hurting others.
Our goal must be to create the strongest possible family bonds, the safest possible communities and the richest opportunities for productive work that we possibly can. When all that fails, and one of our citizens chooses a life of crime, our most merciful approach is to hold that individual accountable for his or her actions. If property is stolen or damaged, the perpetrator should be made to repay and repair. In violent crime, there must be serious jail time and public service. Our response to murder and assault must be aimed at preventing such things in the future. The consequences of breaking the law are designed to have a deterrent effect on those who might be tempted to commit a crime and especially on those who have already done so.
Of course, prison is not a magical cure for dysfunctional human behaviour. It’s far better to create societal conditions that encourage social responsibility and self-control than to place people in prison. The social and economic costs of unrestrained criminal behaviour require us to lock up those who cannot or will not restrain themselves. How we treat those “inside” and how we train and prepare them for eventual release is critical. Ideally, they are learning job skills, a trade or some way of contributing to society. Before releasing a violent criminal back into society, there must be solid evidence that he or she has made an internal decision to change. Many times, those who have manifested addictive behaviours—whether it be drugs, alcohol, violence or sex—need to change location, change friends and associates, etc. in order to avoid temptations that have conquered them in the past.
Two final points:
- These shocking murders were not committed with firearms. Myles was prohibited from possessing weapons. That didn’t stop him from acquiring and using a knife with deadly force. No firearms ban would have prevented this rampage.
- The decision not to return Myles to custody in spite of egregious parole violations is the opposite of the treatment of Tamara Lich, the freedom convoy organizer and political prisoner who never committed an act of violence but was re-arrested and jailed simply for having a photo taken with a colleague. Her re-arrest was a political act and a flagrant abuse of our justice system.
At CHP Canada, we believe in the rule of law. For a Justice system that works, join us and work for change.
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