Bail hearing set for Saskatoon mother accused of faking deaths, crossing into U.S.

The woman’s public defender told an Oregon detention hearing last week that she is a victim of domestic abuse and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The front entrance of the Saskatoon Police Service. Photo: APTN News file

A bail hearing is to take place Friday for a Saskatchewan woman accused of faking her death and that of her son and illegally crossing the border into the United States.

The woman, 48, appeared Monday in Saskatoon court after a judge in Oregon ordered last week that she be returned to Canada to deal with charges here.

A judge granted a publication ban that prevents details that may identify the woman’s son from being released.

Prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk said the Crown opposes releasing the woman from custody pending a trial.

“We’re really disappointed and upset and angry at the way the Crown prosecutor is treating our sister,” the woman’s sister said outside court.

“She is not a danger to society. She’s an Indigenous woman. She’s a mother that wants to be with her son.”

Charged

The woman is charged with public mischief and child abduction in contravention of a custody order. She also faces two charges in the U.S. related to identity fraud for allegedly crossing the border with fake identification.

The woman’s family and friends have said the case is about the justice system’s treatment toward Indigenous women when they seek help or safety.

The woman and her seven-year-old son were reported missing last month after her pickup truck was found at a park south of Saskatoon. After two weeks of search efforts, she and the boy were found in Oregon City.

The woman’s public defender told an Oregon detention hearing last week that she is a victim of domestic abuse and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her child’s father earlier told Saskatoon radio station CKOM that he would never hurt her or the boy. Police have also said any previous allegations made by the woman were investigated, but no charges were laid.

Before court began, dozens of family members and friends held a ceremonial smudge outside. Several members of her First Nation also performed a “Rosebud Song,” which is meant to bring good thoughts and feelings.

Briefly waved

In the courtroom, the woman briefly waved at relatives then sat silently as the Crown filed an order with the court that she not be in contact with her son and the son’s father.

Defence lawyer Chris Murphy, acting for high-profile Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, told court he’s concerned about conditions the woman was subjected to when she was detained by Saskatoon police.

The woman was transferred Friday to Saskatoon police from RCMP custody and remained in a holding cell over the weekend.

Murphy said the woman slept on a concrete bench in a small cell. She didn’t have a mattress, blanket, toothbrush or toothpaste and had no access to a shower until Monday morning.

She wasn’t provided a blanket to cover herself when she used the bathroom and was exposed by a small window, he said.

Female inmates

Murphy added that female inmates are treated differently than men, as men who get arrested on Fridays are sent to a correctional facility for the weekend.

Olenchuk said she couldn’t comment on the custody conditions over the weekend, but that the woman would be moved to Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert until her bail hearing.

Murphy said he has sent a letter about the issue to Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper. A spokeswoman for the police service said its detention centre is designed with safety as a priority and takes into consideration recommendations made at inquests into in-custody deaths.

“It’s been horrible treatment from Day 1 and it’s just continuing,” the woman’s sister said outside court.

“We’re here, we’re watching and we’re going to do everything we can to fight for her and ensure she does receive justice once and for all.”

The woman’s mother cried.

“It was really heartbreaking. I know she is innocent. She hasn’t done nothing. I know that.”