Saskatoon freezing deaths

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The Saskatoon freezing deaths were a series of at least three deaths of indigenous Canadians in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the early 2000s. Their deaths were allegedly caused by members of the Saskatoon Police Service who would arrest indigenous people, usually men, for drunkenness and/or disorderly behaviour, allegedly without cause at times, and then drive them out of the city at night in winter, where they would abandon them.[1]

The practice was known as taking indigenous people for "starlight tours"[2] and dates back to at least 1976.[3] As of 2020, despite convictions for related offences, no Saskatoon police officer has been convicted specifically for having caused freezing deaths.


Victims who died from hypothermia include Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Wegner, and Neil Stonechild. Naistus and Wegner died in 2000, and their bodies were discovered on the outskirts of Saskatoon. Inquests in 2001 and 2002 into their deaths determined they were due to hypothermia. The inquest jury's recommendations all related to police policies and indigenous-police relations.[4] Neil Stonechild's body was found in 1990 in a field outside Saskatoon. A 2003 inquest could not determine the circumstances that led to his death.[5][6]

In January 2000, Darrell Night was dropped off on the outskirts of Saskatoon but was able to call a taxi from the nearby Queen Elizabeth Power Station and suffered no ill effects. The two officers involved, constables Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson of the Saskatoon Police Service, claimed that they had simply given Night a ride home and dropped him off at his own request, but were convicted of unlawful confinement in September 2001 and sentenced to eight months in prison.[7][8] The incident was the subject of the National Film Board of Canada documentary Two Worlds Colliding by Tasha Hubbard.[9]

The Saskatoon police initially insisted these were isolated incidents. But in 2003, police chief Russell Sabo admitted that there was a possibility that the force had been dumping First Nations people outside the city for years, after revealing that in 1976 an officer was disciplined for taking an indigenous woman to the outskirts of the city and abandoning her there.[3]

False accusations[edit]

In December 2010, a young indigenous man named Evan Maud in Winnipeg accused the police of taking him to the edge of the city at 4:00 a.m., threatening him with a taser, and taking his jacket.[10] The police stated that the accusation was false and laid charges against Maud of criminal mischief, after evidence surfaced against him, including a video of Maud boarding a bus 15 minutes after being stopped by police, corroboration by police GPS, and testimony by witnesses that Maud was not wearing a jacket that night.[11][12]

On April 21, 2018, Ken Thomas alleged that he was picked up by two Saskatoon Police officers and dropped off outside city limits at night in the cold. This accusation was investigated by the Public Complaints Commission, which stated that it was unfounded. In a news release, Saskatoon Police chief Troy Cooper said it was unlikely that there was contact on the night of April 21, 2018, between the police and Mr. Thomas, based on video and audio recordings taken from police cars.[13][14][15]

Censorship attempts[edit]

Between 2012 and 2016, the "Starlight tours" section of the Saskatoon Police Service's Wikipedia article was deleted several times. An internal investigation revealed that two of the edits originated from a computer within the police service. A spokesperson for the force denied that the removal of content was officially approved by the force.[16] On March 31, 2016, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix reported that "Saskatoon police have confirmed that someone from inside the police department deleted references to "Starlight tours" from the Wikipedia web page about the police force."[17] According to the report, a "...police spokeswoman acknowledged that the section on starlight tours had been deleted using a computer within the department, but said investigators were unable to pinpoint who did it."[17] The police spokeswoman stated that the force is working to “move forward with all of the positive work that has been done, and continues to be done that came out of the Stonechild inquiry.”[17]

In media[edit]


These incidents have been addressed in two films. Darrell Night's experiences were documented in Tasha Hubbard's 2004 National Film Board of Canada documentary Two Worlds Colliding, winner of the Canada Award.[6][18] A fictional incident was also portrayed in the half-hour drama Out in the Cold, directed by Colleen Murphy and starring Gordon Tootoosis,[2] Matthew Strongeagle, and Erroll Kinistino.


In 2005, the Canadian punk rock band Propagandhi released the album Potemkin City Limits, including the song "The Bringer of Greater Things", which was "dedicated to Rodney Naistus, Neil Stonechild and Lawrence Wegner, murdered by members of the Saskatoon Police Department" (album liner notes).

Canadian musician Kris Demeanor's song "One Shoe" was written about the Saskatoon freezing deaths, particularly Stonechild's.[citation needed] The Wailin' Jennys' song "Starlight" was also inspired by the freezing deaths.[citation needed]

In 2017, Mi'kmaq artist Cathy Elliott completed a five-weeks workshop with students from Sheridan College for her musical Starlight Tour. This work was commissioned by the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario[19] in collaboration with Sheridan College's "Canadian Music Theatre Project".[20]


The podcast Criminal covered the freezing deaths in their episode "Starlight Tours."[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Campbell, Meagan. "New light on Saskatoon's 'starlight tours'". Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "New film renews community discussion about Aboriginal freezing deaths in Saskatoon". Dispatch. University of Regina. Archived from the original on November 2, 2008. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Saskatoon police chief admits starlight cruises are not new". Windspeaker. Aboriginal Multimedia Society of Alberta. July 1, 2003. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  4. ^ Excerpts from Third Report of Canada on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  5. ^ "Who was Neil Stonechild?". CBC News. CBC. November 3, 2005. Archived from the original on August 11, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Thrall, Christopher (April 7, 2005). "Justice of the police". Vue Weekly. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  7. ^ Brown, DeNeen L. (November 22, 2003). "Left for dead in a Saskatchewan winter". MSN. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Archived from the original on September 15, 2005. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  8. ^ "Neil Stonechild: Timeline". CBC News. November 3, 2005. Archived from the original on June 5, 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  9. ^ "Two Worlds Colliding". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  10. ^ "Threat claims shake police-aboriginal relations". CBC News. December 9, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  11. ^ "Man's abuse claims false: Winnipeg police". Winnipeg: CBC News. December 18, 2010. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  12. ^ Turenne, Paul (December 18, 2010). "Cops say man's freezing story a lie". CNEWS. Winnipeg. QMI Agency. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  13. ^ "Man files complaint against police, says officers left him outside Saskatoon". April 24, 2018. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  14. ^ "Man accusing Saskatoon police of conducting a 'starlight tour' hires lawyer experienced with the allegation". May 4, 2018. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  15. ^ "'Starlight Tour' allegation unfounded, investigation finds". December 18, 2018. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  16. ^ Zakraski, Dan (March 31, 2016). "Student claims Saskatoon police removed 'starlight tours' section from Wikipedia page". CBC News. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  17. ^ a b c "Someone at city police headquarters deleted 'starlight tour' references on its Wikipedia page". Saskatoon StarPhoenix. March 31, 2016. Archived from the original on April 1, 2016.
  18. ^ "Two Worlds Colliding" (requires Adobe Flash). Online film. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved September 15, 2011.
  19. ^ "Canadian arts community mourns loss of Indigenous playwright". CBC News. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  20. ^ "Nova Scotia Indigenous playwright, actor remembered as 'a bright light'". National Post. October 17, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  21. ^ Vulture editors (May 8, 2020). "This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: The Case of Woody Harrelson's Father". Vulture. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  22. ^ "Starlight Tours". Criminal. April 17, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • King, Thomas (2017). The inconvenient indian. A curious account of native people in North America. The illustrated edition. Doubleday Canada. ISBN 978-0-3856-9016-4. pp. 200–201 (First ed. 2013, without illustr.)
  • Razack, Sherene (2015). Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-2891-5.

External links[edit]