Starlight tours are a Canadian police practice that involves arresting aboriginal citizens in urban areas, transporting them to remote rural locations (usually at night), and releasing them with instructions to fend for themselves. Evan Maud told investigators how he was taken on a tour. The majority of the time this practice is carried out in the winter, and this has resulted in a number of men and women succumbing to hypothermia.
Maurice Punch (2009), in his book Police Corruption, discusses the difference between the ‘bad apples’, rotten barrels, and rotten orchards metaphors for police corruption. The concept of bad apples describes the inappropriate way individual police officers will behave. The starlight tour is a perfect example of bad apples in policing because this involves individual officers in the force who were taking aboriginal citizens on these drives. This was not a formally sanctioned policing practice. Punch also mentions the “backstage area” of the institution, “the hidden transcripts” used by police, their attitudes and feelings towards their job, also the moral judgments the officers have about the public. Officers being involved in these drives shows a lack of moral judgment and respect for the public which they are suppose to protect.
John Van Maanen, in his article “The Asshole” (1978), discusses street justice where police officers take it upon themselves to apply justice on the street, as they see fit in a given situation. By bringing the aboriginal citizens on the tour or drive the police officers are displaying a form of street justice by taking certain people off the street who they think should not be there. In these incidents, the police alleged that the victims were known to drink and do drugs, and some police feel that it is their duty to remove them from the streets. Quite a few white people do drugs and drink a substantial amount of alcohol, and there are no articles about a white person been taking on the drive.
Recent articles have stated that here in B.C. the starlight tours benefited Robert Pickton. Since the police were trying to take the sex workers off the street, they took some of them on starlight tours, leaving them either in a dark area or at the edge of town. That is how Pickton found several women, who he then took them to his farm and killed them. The police have said that it was not their intention to make the situation more dangerous for the women. Even though it was not their intention it still caused many deaths, and this type of solution to the problem of the Vancouver sex trade should not have been an option the police to take. In the Richmond review it talks about how police abuse made prostitutes an easy prey for Pickton. An article in Politics Canada from the 26th October, 2011 argues that the police objective in these cases was to get sex workers ‘out of sight’ of residential areas, and that they had bad attitudes and used the wrong tactics to achieve this. The inquiry into the role of the Vancouver Police and RCMP in the Pickton case is ongoing.
The documentary “Two Worlds Colliding” discusses the fate of several young aboriginal men from the prairie provinces who were taken on starlight tours by police. The men mentioned in the documentary were Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Wegner, Neil Stonechild and Darrell Knight. Out of the four only Darrell Knight survived to tell his story, and was able to identify the police officers who left him that cold January night. Knight made it to a power station, and from there he was able to get a lift back to the city. The two officers involved were Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen. Both officers only received four months in jail and were fired from the force. Both Lawrence Wegner and Rodney Naistus were found deceased in the snow, their deaths resulting from hypothermia. The chief of Winnipeg police, Dave Scott, told reporters that the three incidents were not related. He was later fired. When the new police chief, Sabo, took over he conducted his own investigation and found out that there had been ‘drop offs’ (Starlight Tours) taking place in Canada since the 1970s. Although they later denied it, officers Craig Hartwig and Brad Senger were witnessed having Stonechild in their custody. Chief Sabo fired both men from the force on November 12, 2004. The deaths of Lawrence Wegner and Rodney Naistus remain unsolved. There is a time line of the deaths of these men and of the ordeal that Darrell Knight had to endure.
More people need to come forward with their experiences not only to get justice, but to increase public awareness of this problem.