Brandon Sakebow was last seen leaving the Mission RCMP drunk tank on March 21 – according to the police.
But his family claim the detachment has not been consistent or forthcoming regarding the details of his disappearance, raising troubling questions.
“Every single time we talk to them, it’s always a different story,” said Laurie Sakebow, the missing man’s mother. “They gave us different dates, different times. It doesn’t make sense at all.”
This week marks the sixth time Brandon Sakebow’s mother has left the Pelican Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan to cross Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, in search of her missing son.
After making the 23-hour, 1,500-kilometre journey again, the family is questioning how investigators have handled the case – and looking for answers.
Laurie, along with Sakebow’s aunt and grandmother, claim the RCMP’s communication has kept their searches in the dark.
They say details of the RCMP’s account have changed, or been withheld for months.
Sakebow’s bag holding his cell phone, wallet, identification and clothes – everything he owned – was found in a stolen van, abandoned in the 33000 block of Third Avenue in Mission on March 24, according to the RCMP. But the family says that information wasn’t shared with them until July 20, during their third trip to B.C.
They say the timeframe for exactly when Sakebow was picked up and held in that Mission cell has changed on multiple occasions.
Sept. 14, Laurie and other family members sat down with the lead investigators from Mission RCMP’s Serious Crime Unit (SCU) to review footage from inside the holding cell.
She says the person in the video is not Brandon Sakebow.
“That’s not my son,” Laurie said. “I know my son.”
|Members of the Sakebow family from the Pelican Lake First Nation, on the sixth trip to B.C. to search for Laurie's son. Patrick Penner / Mission Record.|
It has been 181 days since Sakebow’s family received his last text message on March 20.
In the week prior to his disappearance, his family said he had been trying to come home to Saskatchewan.
Sakebow was paroled from federal prison on Feb. 28 after serving time for a stabbing incident. He stayed at a Abbotsford halfway house briefly before a fire displaced all the residents on March 14. His social worker set him up at the Sandman Hotel in Abbotsford, after which he decided to return home, according to the family.
|Brandon Sakebow sitting on a curb outside the halfway house on March 14, 2020, after it burned down. A total of five people were displace by the fire. Screenshot from KAM Productions video.|
After he failed to wish his mother a happy birthday on March 25, Sakebow’s aunt, Debra Sakebow, filed a missing persons report with the Mission RCMP detachment the next day.
The lack of contact was out of character for the 23-year old, according to his grandmother, Debbie Thomas.
“He was always in touch with his family. He was always letting his mother know everything was OK,” Thomas said. “Why did he suddenly stop texting or inboxing after he was asking to come home?”
Sakebow started an application for welfare assistance on March 7 and never followed through, according to his social worker, Jeanette Dillabough of Raven’s Moon Resource Society. She said no one at her organization has seen or heard from him since March 20.
Laurie’s six separate trips to B.C. to search for her son has come at great financial expense, according to Thomas. A GoFundMe page set up to help assist their search has raised less than $900 as of Sept. 17.
She and others in the Sakebow family have walked the streets and homeless camps of Abbotsford, Mission, Surrey and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, handing out homemade fliers and posters.
|Homemade posters Sakebow's family in Saskatchewan made before traveling to B.C. Facebook photo.|
During each of the family’s first three journeys to the Fraser Valley – in March, June then July – Laurie said she was told the lead investigator was unavailable. Instead, she says the family was only able to speak to officers who “really didn’t know anything.”
Two of the trips lasted three weeks, and on all of three occasions, she said she had told the RCMP she was coming ahead of time.
“The lack of help, even from the RCMP, [makes it difficult],” Debra said. “It’s just like he disappeared off the face of the earth.”
Mission’s lead Serious Crime Unit investigator on the case, Const. Alex Poirer, said the communication occurred through multiple officers due to the case’s transition from a general duty officer to the SCU in early April.
“When it’s identified that it’s been awhile, or it’s one of those cases where more investigative resources are needed, then it’s transferred over,” he said. “General duty officers, who attend files first, don’t have the resources or the time to do these prolonged investigations.”
Poirer said that when dealing with Indigenous families, the department tries to be as “culturally sensitive” as possible, and will assign an Indigenous liaison member if one is available, but Mission has no Indigenous SCU officers.
“We try to bridge the gap as much as possible so that it doesn’t become an issue,” he said. “We have internal resources that we can look to for those types of things.”
Laurie said she has repeatedly asked to submit a DNA test to RCMP, in case the worst should happen and it’s needed for identification.
“I just want to do that just to cross that off,” she said. “They said it was too early for that.”
Poirer said investigators have no reason to suspect foul play at this point.
Sakebow’s grandmother has been volunteering with Indigenous families with missing persons for over 25 years. She said that throughout these decades she has noticed a “gap in services” between police investigations, and organizing support for Indigenous families searching for missing loved ones.
Much of the time, only the family is willing to follow up on every tip, she said.
|Sakebow's mother, grandfather and aunts walking up the driveway of the dairy farm where he was reportedly picked up by Mission RCMP officers. Patrick Penner / Mission Record.|
“It’s really the family that is investigating the missing person, and where they could be and how they went missing. They’re going around questioning people,” she said. “We can never confirm whether [the RCMP] are or not.”
Thomas contacted the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan in August, prompting a sit-down Zoom meeting with RCMP and FSIN investigators, and family information liaison units from both provinces.
The family said they received more attention from investigators when FSIN became involved.
“We’ve been in consistent contact with the family regarding this case,” said Cpl. Nathan Berze, media relations officer for the Mission RCMP. “There are significant resources and expertise being put into this investigation and it’s currently a priority for the detachment’s Serious Crime Unit.”
The family says the lack of consistency from the detachment has shaken their confidence with the RCMP investigation.
When filing the report with the Mission RCMP, Debra said that she offered to send multiple different pictures of Sakebow for the missing persons release, but says she was told his “mug shot” would do.
The photo used in the initial release was actually a temporary ID, recovered from his belongings in the stolen van, according to the family.
That “mug shot” is what planted the seed of mistrust with the RCMP department, according to the family.
During conversations with officers throughout the five-month period since Sakebow’s disappearance, the family said they were given inconsistent dates and times as to when he was released from the Mission holding cell.
In one instance, they said officers told them Sakebow was picked up at 6:30 a.m. on March 21, and then let go four hours later around 10:30 a.m. In another instance, they were told he was released the following day on March 22 around the same time.
They also say the locations and colour of the van containing Sakebow’s belongings have changed.
The RCMP’s initial missing persons release on March 27 said his last known sighting was on March 22. That date was an error on their part, according to Poirer, but a Sept. 7 missing persons release by the Mission RCMP contains the same error.
Poirer said the RCMP’s timeline has been consistent throughout the investigation.
“I can’t tell you a reason. I don’t know why there’s confusion,” Poirer said. “We need to get information out to the public immediately. So we have to release what information we have at the time, based on what we know at the time.
“A lot of the times with these investigations what happens is, once we start digging into it, dates change, information changes, so that could make up for part of the discrepancy there.”
The RCMP said Sakebow was picked up intoxicated at a Dewdney dairy farm at 12:30 a.m. on March 21 and released nine hours later, and was seen walking towards Lougheed Highway. Poirer said there have been possible sighting since, but non have been confirmed.
Laurie, along with the rest of the family, is adamant the footage from inside the Mission RCMP holding cell is not of her son. She said her son’s arms, neck and hands are covered in noticeable tattoos, and the person in the footage does not have any.
“I knew that wasn’t my son the second he walked [into frame],” she said.
|The photo of the person in the Mission RCMP holding cell that investigators claim is Brandon Sakebow (left). Sakebow's family say this person does not have any of his noticeable tattoos (right). Photos courtesy of the Sakebow family.|
Poirer said they are “fairly confident” the person in the video is Sakebow. He said that although the person in the video did not have a wallet or cellphone, officers are trained on how to confirm ID.
“He provided information to police officers when they dealt with him.”
He said they showed Sakebow’s signature to Laurie, but the family dispute being able to examine it closely.
One of the owners of the Dewdney dairy farm said one of their employers discovered Sakebow in the milking parlour around midnight, and they phoned the police. She added that a vehicle pulled up to the property approximately 40 minutes before Sakebow was discovered.
“We can’t figure out when and how he came here,” she said. “He told my husband, ‘I’m lost.’
“But he couldn’t really communicate.”
The RCMP’s account said a van was stolen out of Abbotsford in the early-morning hours of March 20 and found abandoned in Mission four days later by Abbotsford Police officers. Brandon’s fingerprints were found in the van, according to the Mission RCMP.
Poirer said the Mission RCMP did not become aware of Sakebow’s belongings, reportedly found in the stolen van by Abbotsford Police, until “quite a bit of time after the vehicle was recovered.”
“I can’t give you an exact time … I would say more than a month, but I can’t be certain.”
But the family has doubts.
When Sakebow’s bag was released to them on July 20 (after they were informed of its existence the same day), his cell phone was missing the SIM card and his Facebook account had been completely erased.
Laurie said something really didn’t seem right when she found the photo of Brandon’s temporary identification among his belongings.
|Laurie Sakebow going through the contents of her son's bag. The bag was found by Abbotsford police in a stolen van in Mission on March 24, four days after he went missing, according to the RCMP. The family say they didn't know about the bag until July 20. Patrick Penner / Mission Record.|
“Something told me to go and look in there,” she said. “I said, ‘Mom, this is that same mug shot!’”
So, the family asks: How did the Mission RCMP come into possession of the photo used in the March 27 missing persons release, if the Abbotsford Police held all the belongings and officers weren’t aware of this fact for at least a month?
“I want to find my son and take him home. He belongs at home,” Laurie said. ”Where is my son?”
|Sakebow's temporary identification photo used in his missing person's release. Patrick Penner / Mission Record.|