A Calgary Flames pennant flapping on a passing vehicle; a railroad repair crew working on the tracks — it’s the small things that bring everything back, reminding the family of Jamison Samuel Louis that he’s no longer here.
Louis was killed in Wetaskiwin on Jan. 3, 2020.
Louis’ maternal grandmother Joyce Crier-Tootoosis said “Jamie,” as they called him, had been accepted into the military and was excited to start a post in Nova Scotia.
Before applying to the military he had trained to work on railroad lines, but decided not to pursue it.
Crier-Tootoosis, 79, said she’s “lived a long life” and has learned there are daily triggers that will set off a memory.
“Every time I see workers on the CP rail, I think of my grandson and think to myself, ‘He would have been there, working.’”
For Jenelle Louis, Jamie’s oldest sister, it’s NHL games. Jamie was an avid Flames fan.
“I’m still waiting for him to call me, as we had late-night talks, especially when the hockey game was on, Calgary and the Oilers,” said Jenelle.
They’d watch games together on speaker phone and at other times, chat about politics, family, or anything really.
People who came to his funeral, friends and coworkers from all over, wore Flames or Stampeder jerseys, another team he liked. The vehicles in the funeral procession were also decorated by Flames flags.
“I just can’t even watch those games anymore.”
She lives with the guilt of her decision to stay home that night as the road conditions from Samson Cree Nation to Wetaskwin were poor and it was bitterly cold out. She wonders, though, if she could have somehow prevented his death had she been there.
“I blame myself for not wanting to go because, there’s always that ‘what if?’” said Jenelle.
Ryan Jake Applegarth, convicted of the second degree murder of Louis, was sentenced on Nov. 3, 2022, to eight years minus time served, though for Crier-Tootoosis, the sentencing only raised more questions.
Applegarth was released on bail after a hearing in Wetaskiwin on Sept. 3, 2020. On Nov. 5, 2020, Chantelle Firingstoney of Ponoka was killed and Applegarth was subsequently charged with her second degree murder.
“I really questioned it. Why did they let him out? Why, after killing my grandson? And he’s still in the community and goes and (allegedly) takes a young girl’s life? I question that.”
She said she was grateful to read about Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson’s comments about Bill C-75 in the Ponoka News, because she wasn’t aware of it.
Bill C-75, which made changes to bail provisions and favours release at the earliest opportunity over detention (justice.gc.ca), was passed by the federal government in 2018.
“In his own way … (the mayor) brought me comfort, knowing that there’s somebody just as concerned as I am — concerned, worried and questioning,” she said. “I knew there was something there, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.”
Crier-Tootoosis was also troubled that the main witness in the trial would have been Curtis Louis, Jamie’s brother, but Curtis passed away four months after Jamie, and his statement was not used in court, she said.
She also wonders if Applegarth being awarded bail, and his seemingly short sentence, were because he’s Indigenous, and so was Louis.
During the sentencing hearing, defence lawyer Kenneth Sockett said Applegarth isn’t a flight risk. Crier-Tootoosis says she completely disagrees because when Applegarth was first charged with the slaying of Louis, he went on the run.
After being charged, Applegarth wasn’t located and arrested until Feb. 5, 2020, over a month later.
“I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of us with unanswered questions and wondering why? What went wrong?” said Crier-Tootoosis.
In a recent op-ed, Minister of Justice Tyler Shandro stated, “Albertans are becoming increasingly angry with the catch-and-release system that allows dangerous criminals back into our communities.
“This is not the fault of the Alberta Justice system, local courts, crown prosecutors or the police.
“The catch-and-release system is systemic and can be traced to federal laws and the bail regime established by Ottawa.”
Shandro pointed to a statutory release policy and Bill C-75, that “quietly left a lot of our communities unsafe by making it almost impossible to hold even serious, repeat offenders in pre-trial custody.”
Although Shandro, who previously served as a member of the National Parole Board, was not personally available to comment, his department provided a statement.
Regarding questions about bail, the statement simply said that bail is decided by the courts.
One definition of bail criteria states, “The judge or justice of the peace will grant bail if they are satisfied that the accused will come to court, follow their conditions, not break any other laws or be a danger to the community.” (jeffreismanlaw.ca)
“Gladue” factors were cited repeatedly by judge Hon. Stephen Hillier during Applegarth’s sentencing.
The Ministry of Justice stated, “Gladue reports are a way for the judge to consider the unique circumstances of Indigenous peoples, such as colonization, racism, loss of language, removal from land, Indian residential schools, foster care, and addiction.
“Judges must consider the impacts of these when they make decisions relating to an Indigenous person appearing in their court.”
Judges must also consider options other than jail, such as participation in a restorative justice program, read the statement.
According to statistics provided by the Alberta RCMP, there have been 23 homicides from 2020 to date in 2022, between Ponoka, Wetaskiwin and Maskwacis (Ponoka, one in 2020; Wetaskiwin, four in 2020, one in 2021, and three in 2022; Maskwacis, seven in 2020 (one unsolved), two in 2021, and five in 2022 (two with no charges laid yet)).
While Ponoka had one homicide in the last two years, another Ponoka victim was killed while in Wetaskiwin (Antwon Bull on July 8,2022) and an accused in another case was a resident of Ponoka (Dylon Samuel Saddleback).
In 2022, the Ponoka RCMP detachment dealt with 20 firearms offences and 200 assaults.
Wetaskiwin RCMP handled 31 firearm offences and 485 assaults so far in 2022.
Maskwacis RCMP responded to 197 firearm offences and 947 assaults to-date in 2022.
“After what happened in Saskatchewan, people were surprised by lengthy records of the suspects and asking why they were not in custody,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley.
Smiley was the Ponoka detachment commander until recently moving on to a provincial post.
“There are numerous individuals in the central Alberta area with similar lengthy and violent records and that is why we continue to be as proactive as we can, monitoring subjects of those on bail or probation conditions,” he said.
“I applaud Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson for asking questions and raising awareness of this issue after tragic events in our community.”
Ponoka, like most RCMP detachments, proactively monitors repeat offenders.
“Crime reduction is one of our top three priorities,” said Ponoka RCMP acting detachment commander Sgt. Erin St-Cyr.
“The continuous monitoring of prolific offenders in our community is one of the keystones in our plan to reducing and combating crime in our area.”
In 2021, the Ponoka RCMP detachment conducted 152 offender monitoring checks. In 2022, the detachment has done 105 so far.
Offender monitoring checks are when members stop in on offenders to verify if they are complying with court-imposed conditions or prohibitions.
Such prohibitions may include in person curfew checks, abstaining from the consumption of drugs or alcohol, not having any contact with certain persons or to not attend certain locations.
Currently, the Ponoka detachment is actively monitoring 14 offenders in the community.
St-Cyr added it’s important to remember these numbers fluctuate, with that number sometimes as high as 20 or as low as six or seven.
On the provincial level, the Integrated Offender Management (IOM) is an “evidenced-based approach to reducing recidivism in priority offenders.”
“Not only does this program help offenders break the cycle of offending and bring about positive change, it supports the Alberta RCMP’s larger goals of crime reduction, reduced victimization, and enhanced community safety and well-being,” said Cpl. Diana Stratton, IOM Unit, Central Alberta District.
Stratton said IOM recognizes crime isn’t always best addressed solely within the justice system.
“In IOM, data and intelligence are used to identify local offenders who are creating the most harm to their community, and who are likely to continue this pattern without additional intervention.
“Local police officers work with these offenders to identify their risks to re-offending, as well as the underlying needs that keep them stuck in a criminal lifestyle.
“Offenders who participate can expect supportive and collaborative support from community stakeholders, while also experiencing accountability for their actions through police and the justice system.
“Together, a collaborative case management plan is built that is unique to every offender who participates in the program.”
Community partners vary and and can include addictions and mental health supports, local FCSS, housing/shelters, employment agencies, probation, FASD Networks, AB Supports and Children’s Services.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the Alberta government has made substantial investments since 2019 to improve public safety, including hiring 50 new Crown prosecutors.
“The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service is also working on the province-wide implementation of a pre-charge assessment system with law enforcement agencies to create much-needed capacity in the justice system,” the statement read.
“In Budget 2022, we spent millions on Alberta’s three levels of court to ensure they have the resources they need to deal with serious criminal matters in a timely way and improve access to justice for Albertans with civil and family matters.”
The province is increasing funding by $50 million over a five-year period to address organized and serious crime, including gang violence, drug trafficking and child exploitation.
The Alberta Parole Board was also created in spring, 2021, to review and make decisions on provincial custody cases.
The Justice department said the province is also implementing a new funding model that puts more police resources in rural Alberta.
“There needs to be a better way because I felt so isolated, I felt so alone, thinking nobody’s out there for me, for us, especially being Native,” said Crier-Tootoosis.
“There were times I lost all interest, my energy and motivation … it was a struggle, but I knew I wasn’t the only one hurting. It was my whole family,”
Crier-Tootoosis said she’s not a vengeful person, so she’s not speaking out on her own behalf, but for those in her family, community and other Nations.
“Every time I hear about a loss of life, especially a young person, I feel their pain, because I’ve been there,” she said.
Crier-Tootoosis shared that of her seven children, only two are still living.
“I’m no stranger to those feelings — the loss, the grief, the pain, and the anger at times,” she said.
“I’d like to think that I’m of some help to somebody who will listen to me.”
A retired teacher, Crier-Tootoosis said young people need praise and nurturing, to set goals for themselves and above all, to have respect for themselves, in order to succeed.
Regarding the number of violent crimes occurring in the community, she said from her experience, that comes from a lack of guidance and respect.
Young children being fostered outside of their community is also a factor, as well as “young people having babies when they haven’t grown up yet themselves,” she said.
“Our young people are so lost.”