‘I’m afraid of the guys with guns’: Saskatoon police vs. Indigenous people

John Murray
APTN Investigates
On the night of June 29, 2016 Dion Ladouceur ended up on his bedroom floor after being stunned by a police Taser.

As it turned out, the police had the wrong man.

Jordan Lafond was a young father with a daughter who died after an arrest by police.

A Coroner’s inquest ruled his death was an accident.

When police take action, most of the public feels protected. But many Indigenous people in Saskatoon – and other Canadian towns and cities — don’t feel the same way.

The Saskatoon Police Service has a long, rough history with Indigenous people. That relationship still needs a lot of work.

Erica Violet Lee, an academic and activist, grew up in Saskatoon.

“I grew up in Saskatoon in the 1990s,” she said. “I remember seeing over and over again on the news, the image of Neil Stonechild’s body on the ground and police officers walking around it in the snow. And seeing that three second image repeatedly flashed at me.”

Neil Stonechild was found frozen to death in Saskatoon’s north industrial area in 1990.

There were allegations of a starlight tour, a practice where police are said to drop off Indigenous people on the city’s outskirts.

An inquiry called 13 years later finished in 2004 and said despite Stonechild being in police custody the night he died there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he was dropped off by police.

A chapter of Lee’s  Master’s thesis will look at policing in Saskatoon.

When she walks home in Saskatoon’s notorious Riversdale and Pleasant Hill neighborhoods at 2 a.m., her only fear is when she sees a police car.

“I’m not afraid of my own community. I’m afraid of the guys with guns,” said Lee.

For individual police officers, the demands of making split-second decisions can be life altering, even if they believe they did the right thing.

In the early morning of October 23, 2016, Saskatoon police chased a stolen truck that eventually crashed.

A passenger in that truck, Jordan Lafond, was thrown from the wreckage.

Officers who found him believed he was resisting and Sgt. Thomas Gresty used knee strikes to subdue him.

Gresty later said that decision was likely wrong.

When Darcy and Charmaine Dreaver answered their door shortly after the crash, they found a police officer there with terrifying news. Their son, Jordan, had been injured in a truck crash.

“When the police came and rang that doorbell it changed our lives forever,” Darcy said.

“Probably the worst day of my life,” said Charmaine.

They were offered few details and arrived at a hospital room to find their injured son laying unconscious suffering from severe head trauma, watched over by two police officers.

Jordan passed away from his injuries and his family began seeking answers about what happened.

There was a Coroner’s inquest.

Sgt. Thomas Gresty, the arresting officer, told the inquest he may have gotten it wrong.

“I recognized right away he was in medical distress. He looked terrible,” Gresty said. “I’m pretty confident now I was looking at it wrong and saw it wrong.”

The Lafond family were devastated to hear this detail which was never revealed to them until the inquest.

“It went from these officers telling us that he died from an accident,” Charmaine Dreaver said, “to all of a sudden in this inquest, sworn testimonies of the beating, the blunt force trauma to the head, him dying and him being kneed to the head.”

That inquest found that Lafond’s death was an accident caused by blunt force trauma to the head.

That wasn’t enough for the Dreavers.

It put them on a mission to change how police investigate police. They have started a petition to have an independent police oversight body in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission currently investigates allegations of police misconduct and is part of the province’s Ministry of Justice.

They substantiated roughly four per cent of the complaints they received from April 2018 to March 2019, according to their annual report.

Dion Ladouceur was stunned by a Taser in his own home when police entered without a warrant believing he was a different person.

He was sitting at his computer when he heard commotion in the hallway outside his apartment before a police officer opened his door.

“When he entered the place he yelled ‘Jason,’” Ladouceur said.

Ladouceur told them there was no one there named Jason and he and the officer went back and forth over his name. Ladouceur says he used colourful language but was cooperative.

He told the police to get out but the police claim he was threatening them.

Minutes later he was stunned by a Taser when he entered his bedroom.

“I turn my back on him and the lights went out,” said Ladouceur.

“There’s no describing it,” he said. “It was like having all your bones made out of needles and then all of a sudden your muscles contract to it. Kind of what it felt like.”

He spent the night in jail, charged with uttering threats and assaulting a police officer. The charges were later dropped.

Ladouceur complained to the Public Complaints Commission. His complaint was determined to be “unfounded,” meaning the commission concluded there was no evidence to support it.

He then went to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission who also dismissed his complaint.

Ladouceur is now suing the Saskatoon Police Service and the officers involved, alleging trespassing, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and personal injury.

The Saskatoon Police Service won’t comment on ongoing civil claims.

“We would be happy to speak with the family on those matters, but are not in position to have that discussion with the media,” they said by email.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice said they are examining police oversight.

“The ministry also understands the need for further transparency, accountability, and ensuring public confidence in police services, specifically in areas that concern serious incidents involving police,” they said by email. “The ministry is reviewing civilian oversight bodies in other Canadian jurisdictions and engaging in discussions with Saskatchewan police services to determine what improvements can be made.”

Ladouceur’s claims have not been proven in court.

The Dreavers are looking for signatures for their petition whenever they get the chance.

Erica Violet Lee wants to see change come from the community.

“I think that the change that we want starts in our community,” she said. “It doesn’t come from the government and it’s not going to come from the police service.”

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