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public editor

Police and investigators are seen at the side of the road outside Rosthern, Sask., on Sept. 7.Kelly Geraldine Malone/The Canadian Press

Just after Myles Sanderson died in police custody after being sought in the stabbing deaths of 10 people in Saskatchewan, I received a complaint from a reader.

The reader said it was unfair to question the police after Globe columnist Robyn Urback wrote a tweet, then a column, saying that the Canadian public is owed an explanation of how Mr. Sanderson died while in custody.

We saw photos of a takedown by police, with the airbags of Mr. Sanderson’s car deployed. The RCMP said he died after he “went into medical distress,” and that officers had performed lifesaving measures before paramedics arrived.

There was no explanation of what caused the distress and journalists were absolutely right, in my view, to press authorities on how he died.

The Globe’s Editorial Board raised another good question: “The arrest and death last week of Myles Sanderson ended the threat from the perpetrator of Canada’s worst mass stabbing. It was also the moment to start asking hard questions about Mr. Sanderson’s revolving-door journey through this country’s criminal justice system…”

The reader said it was wrong to criticize police “… literally minutes after catching this guy and him dying in an ambulance…. The RCMP worked hard and spent a lot of man hours and resources tracking this guy. They deserve better. Let’s wait for the SIRT investigation, or the coroner’s report first. Police are not medical experts and don’t know what happened in that ambulance and hence are unable to speak to the death.”

The Saskatoon Police, not SIRT (Saskatchewan’s Serious Incident Response Team), is taking the lead in the investigation.

It can take years to get answers. An inquiry is looking into the mass killing in Nova Scotia of 22 people by a man dressed as a Mountie two years later.

It also has taken two years to hear details of a shooting by Ontario police where a father and infant son were killed.

Ms. Urback noted, and I agree, that “Immediate transparency is the norm in other countries and should be here, too, with the onus on police to explain why, in exceptional cases, certain details must be withheld.”

At some point we will know more, after the chief coroner of Saskatchewan this week ordered two separate public inquests into the stabbing rampage.

Still the question of how Mr. Sanderson died remains unanswered. On Sept. 8, the day after his death, Global News reporter Rachel Gilmore reported that “multiple law enforcement sources ... believed he died from self-inflicted injuries, which the RCMP did not confirm.”

On Wednesday, CBC reporter Kendall Latimer wrote that, “According to a senior government official briefed on the matter by law enforcement, Sanderson died after consuming pills just before his arrest. Multiple police, government and health sources have told CBC News he consumed drugs before police took him into custody following a highway pursuit.”

The RCMP has yet to confirm these and other reports.

On a related note, next Wednesday is World News Day, and journalism groups are using it as an opportunity to point out the importance of fact-based reporting.

It is crucial to get and share facts in a timely way, but also to verify those facts to avoid amplifying rumours and mis- and disinformation.

The Poynter Institute, a U.S. non-profit that studies journalism, noted that the rumours that Queen Elizabeth died due to the COVID vaccine were unfounded.

Her cause of death was not given, but there is no evidence it was COVID related.

Speaking of fact-based reporting, if you read something in The Globe you believe is not factual, please send me an e-mail at publiceditor@globeandmail.com. I hear from readers every day, although some are unclear on the difference between news and opinion.

In a news story, the facts should be clear and you should read a fair and balanced report. The job of opinion writers is to take strong positions and express their views for you to consider, whether you agree or not.