Saskatoon freezing deaths

The Saskatoon freezing deaths were a series of deaths of Canadian Indigenous people in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the early 2000s. Their deaths were allegedly caused by members of the Saskatoon Police Service who arrested Aboriginal people (usually men for drunkenness and/or disorderly behaviour), and would drive them out of the city at night in winter only to abandon them. The practice was known as taking Indigenous people for starlight tours [1] and dates back to at least 1976. [2]


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 police/Indigenous relations.[3] Neil Stonechild's body was found in 1990 in a field outside Saskatoon. A 2003 inquest was not able to determine the circumstances that led to his death.[4][5]

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.[6][7] The incident was the subject of the National Film Board of Canada documentary Two Worlds Colliding by Tasha Hubbard.[8]

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.[2]

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.[9] 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.[10][11]

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.[12][13][14]

In mediaEdit


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.[5][15] A fictional incident was also portrayed in the half-hour drama Out in the Cold, directed by Colleen Murphy and starring Gordon Tootoosis,[1] Matthew Strongeagle, and Erroll Kinistino.


In 2005, the Canadian punk rock band Propagandhi released the album Potemkin City Limits, containing 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 written about the freezing deaths.[citation needed]

In 2017, Mi'kmaq artist Cathy Elliott completed a five-week workshop with students from Sheridan College for her musical Starlight Tour. This work was commissioned by the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario[16] in collaboration with Sheridan College's "Canadian Music Theatre Project"[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "New film renews community discussion about Aboriginal freezing deaths in Saskatoon". Dispatch. University of Regina. Archived from the original on 2 November 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Saskatoon police chief admits starlight cruises are not new". Windspeaker. Aboriginal Multimedia Society of Alberta. July 1, 2003. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  3. ^ Excerpts from Third Report of Canada on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  4. ^ "Who was Neil Stonechild?". CBC News. CBC. November 3, 2005. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  5. ^ a b Thrall, Christopher (April 7, 2005). "Justice of the police". Vue Weekly. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  6. ^ 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 27 November 2010.
  7. ^ "Neil Stonechild: Timeline". CBC News. November 3, 2005. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  8. ^ "Two Worlds Colliding". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  9. ^ "Threat claims shake police-aboriginal relations". CBC News. December 9, 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  10. ^ "Man's abuse claims false: Winnipeg police". Winnipeg: CBC News. December 18, 2010. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  11. ^ Turenne, Paul (December 18, 2010). "Cops say man's freezing story a lie". CNEWS. Winnipeg. QMI Agency. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  12. ^ "Man files complaint against police, says officers left him outside Saskatoon". 24 April 2018. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  13. ^ "Man accusing Saskatoon police of conducting a 'starlight tour' hires lawyer experienced with the allegation". 4 May 2018. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  14. ^ "'Starlight Tour' allegation unfounded, investigation finds". 18 December 2018. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  15. ^ "Two Worlds Colliding" (requires Adobe Flash). Online film. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  16. ^ "Canadian arts community mourns loss of Indigenous playwright". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  17. ^ "Nova Scotia Indigenous playwright, actor remembered as 'a bright light'". National Post. 2017-10-17. Retrieved 2017-11-07.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit