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RCMP failed to inform MJPS about prisoner’s firearms charges and missing pistol, inquiry hears

RCMP Sgt. Dennis Silliker took the witness stand at Court of King’s Bench on April 17 on day 3 of a coroner’s inquest looking into Sabourin’s death in Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) cells on Oct. 7, 2021. 
Assiniboia RCMP detachment at 101 Dominion Road. Photo courtesy RCMP

Assiniboia RCMP failed to inform Moose Jaw police that they had charged Jeremy Sabourin with firearms-related offences when they brought him to city cells, nor did they mention that a small pistol was missing, a coroner’s inquest heard.

RCMP Sgt. Dennis Silliker took the witness stand at Court of King’s Bench on April 17 on day 3 of a coroner’s inquest looking into Sabourin’s death in Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) cells on Oct. 7, 2021. 

Silliker was the detachment commander in Assiniboia when Const. Paisley Armstrong arrested Sabourin on Oct. 6, 2021, on outstanding warrants for sexual assault and assault. Cpl. Mark Dijkstra conducted a preliminary roadside search at the arrest site, while Const. Colin Tetreault conducted a more comprehensive search at the detachment.

Young officers

Armstrong had been with the RCMP for roughly three years, while Tetreault had roughly one week of job experience; Armstrong was his field coach. Silliker — then a 14-year veteran — said his goal as their supervisor was to be a mentor and resource. 

While it’s sometimes easier to mentor older members, the sergeant said junior members can be much better to coach since they’ve usually come directly from Depot, have received intensive training and are keen to learn. 

“In my experience, junior members are more tactically sound than perhaps some of the older members,” said Silliker. “They have a higher level of officer awareness, safety considerations, operational skills … and they haven’t had the opportunity to develop bad habits or shortcuts that maybe a senior member may have.”

With RCMP policies about using a metal detection wand on prisoners, Silliker said neither he nor Tetreault knew the policy existed before Sabourin’s death, although they did review policies about searching people.

Watching the search

Silliker said he watched the junior constable search Sabourin and not find any firearm, even though the prisoner had — unbeknownst to officers — a small, Derringer-type North American Arms Mini Master loaded .22-calibre pistol clipped to his underwear near his groin. 

The fact they didn’t find the weapon has run through Silliker’s mind “many, many, many times” since then, especially since he believed there was a firearm somewhere on Sabourin.

Asked why the pistol wasn’t found, the sergeant said, “That’s the question I’ve asked myself the last few years, is how could that not be located … . It appeared to me to be a good, comprehensive search.” 

Tetreault filled out a form that contained information about Sabourin — including his sexual assault and assault allegations — that would accompany him to Moose Jaw. 

However, the form did not contain information about his enthusiasm for guns, nor a new offence with which officers charged him seven hours after his arrest for carelessly storing a loaded 9-millimetre handgun in his truck, nor the fact he resisted arrest. 

Silliker and Tetreault searched the truck because the former had information about a potentially loaded gun there and he was concerned about public safety.

Seizing guns

After Sabourin was shipped to Moose Jaw, Assiniboia officers — because of finding the loaded gun in the truck — searched Sabourin’s house and his parents’ place for his firearms. They located 15 firearms — including five handguns — at the parents’ home and one rifle at his home. 

Silliker wasn’t at the parents’ home long because he and Dijkstra attended a domestic abuse incident later that evening. He noted that they never catalogued the firearms they took or compared them to a list they had.  

As they were leaving the parents’ home, Sabourin’s father asked officers whether they had found the .22-calibre pistol; they hadn’t. Officers never found it at Sabourin’s home, either.

Failing to inform MJPS

Robin Ritter, the coroner’s counsel, pressed Silliker about whether Moose Jaw police knew that the RCMP hadn’t found the Derringer-type gun, whether RCMP phoned their city counterparts to inform them about the missing pistol, and whether Assiniboia members should have encouraged Moose Jaw to search him more closely.

“If I suspected at any point that he potentially was concealing a firearm, I would have taken and ensured that search was done,” said Silliker. “I had no suspicion at that time … . I had no inkling that he would potentially have a firearm on him.”

Upon learning about Sabourin’s suicide the next morning, the sergeant added that his first thought was the prisoner had disarmed a city officer and used that gun.

Questions and questions

While Sabourin was still at the rural detachment, Silliker asked about the Mini Master pistol and whether the 40-year-old kept it on him or in his truck, receiving “no” to both queries. He said he asked because he was concerned about safety and worried he overlooked the gun in the truck because of its small size.

The sergeant also asked the prisoner four times whether he had any knives or guns on him, as he did with everyone; the man declined to answer based on legal advice.

A jurist asked Silliker whether Tetreault — as a young officer — may have hesitated while searching Sabourin, especially near the man’s groin. Moreover, the jurist wondered if most officers are hesitant to conduct thorough searches near prisoners’ private parts while adhering to guidelines. 

Silliker replied that members are usually concerned about being perceived as disrespectful when they search prisoners, so they attempt to find the right balance. This situation may have been avoided if Tetreault had seen Sabourin’s underwear — where the gun was clipped — during the search.

Tetreault was well trained for searches because cadets frisk hundreds of people during their training and graduate “at the top of their game,” the sergeant added. 

RCMP never disciplined any of the Assiniboia officers, although Silliker took time off to address his mental health. He later transferred to headquarters in Regina and now investigates livestock problems. 

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