Parole Board of Canada employees feared receiving threats after it was revealed that a mass murderer in Saskatchewan was legally at large at the time of last year’s attack, emails show.
Emails in partially redacted documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show Parole Board of Canada staff were warned about their safety and told to remain alert following threats made to a Saskatchewan office after the stabbings.
Eleven people were killed and 17 injured in attacks on the James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby village of Weldon on September 4, 2022.
Myles Sanderson, 32, was arrested four days later and died in police custody.
During the manhunt it was widely reported that Sanderson, who had a history of violent assaults, had been granted statutory release, which comes into effect when an offender has served two-thirds of a prison sentence.
The murders raised questions about why Sanderson was freed and how he managed to remain free in the months before the attacks. The emails show that, along with increased public attention and criticism, the parole board received “some concerning phone calls” about Sanderson’s release, which were reported to Saskatoon police.
Emails sent Sept. 8 to Jennifer Oades, president of the parole board, include a phone call to the Saskatchewan parole board office.
The content of the four-minute call is largely redacted, but it prompted swift action within the parole board.
“This is quite concerning,” Oades wrote in an email about the call.
Staff are advised to be vigilant: emails
Later that day, staff were notified in an email to take steps to ensure their safety.
They were advised to use alternative routes to work or change departure times. The email said staff should leave the building in groups or consider working from home.
“Please remember to be vigilant and on the lookout for any suspicious activity or people in your surroundings,” the email to staff said.
It also warned people to make their employee ID cards or lanyards less visible and to avoid using branded items such as coffee mugs. He said they should reconsider having social media accounts that could identify them as parole board employees.
“Given recent events, it is recommended that you reduce your visibility as a PBC employee while outside of safe work zones,” the email said.
An email sent to Oades two days after the stabbings expressed shock that Sanderson had been released and said the parole board needed to respond to the public.
“How many more of these (Parole Board of Canada) mistakes are there?”
The parole board said in a statement that it sometimes receives comments containing “abusive” language about its decisions.
In the case of the concerning phone call, the board said local police contacted the individual and “determined that there had been no intent to threaten the board.”
Parole board employees were also closely monitoring news of Sanderson’s release, emails show. They noted the backlash and shared concerns about the public’s understanding of legal release, which imposes conditions on offenders to help them with their reintegration into society.
Sanderson’s probation documents show he had an extensive criminal history, including 59 convictions as an adult. He received statutory release in August 2021 from his first federal prison sentence of more than four years.
Four months after his release, Sanderson was found to have lied about his living conditions and his release was stayed.
In February 2022, the parole board lifted that suspension and Sanderson was again granted statutory release with a reprimand. However, three months later, the Correctional Service of Canada deemed him to be unlawfully released and a probation officer issued a warrant for his arrest.
After the deadly stabbings, then-Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino weighed in on Sanderson’s release from prison, saying “there were a number of major flaws in the system here that need to be addressed.”
The Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada launched a joint investigation into Sanderson’s release. A briefing note shows a written report was due by March, but in separate statements both the parole board and the prison service say they hope to share the results this autumn.
“The time needed to complete an investigation varies depending on the complexity of the case and whether there is an ongoing police investigation or criminal proceedings,” parole board spokeswoman Iulia Pescarus Popa wrote.
The joint investigation aims to investigate why and how Sanderson was released from prison and whether appropriate processes were followed.
Betty Pottruff, a member of the parole board that approved Sanderson’s decision, expressed concern about the growing interest and her own safety as the joint investigation progressed.
In a January email, he requested the assistance of a Justice Department attorney for the joint investigation.
“There was already a threat to board members that caused concern in the fall and as emotions resurface, the risks continue or increase,” Pottruff said.
“I expect this focus on me as an individual board member to continue and increase as the reviews progress.”