The term ‘starlight tours’ refers to the practice of police taking Aboriginal citizens to the outskirts of a city and leaving them there in the freezing winter nights with instructions to walk home. There have been more than 80 victims affected by the starlight tours, all Aboriginal citizens. One of the first starlight tours happened in Winnipeg, Manitoba during the winter of 1971. The victim was 19-year-old Helen Betty Osborne. She was brought to a field outside the city of Winnipeg and was left there to die by police. All of the Aboriginal citizens that were affected by this were wearing very little clothing when abandoned in the snow far from home. Since the temperatures in Saskatchewan and Manitoba can go down to -40 in the winter, the chance of their survival was very slim; this has resulted in a number of men and women succumbing to hypothermia. The federation wants to inquire how the justice system treats Aboriginals citizens. The federation of Saskatchewan has said that this is a clear proof of systemic racism. Since this practice only affected the Aboriginal citizens. Officers being involved in these drives shows a lack of moral judgment and respect for the public which they are suppose to protect. 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. The starlight tours are still happening in Winnipeg, and the latest one reported was in 2008. There might be even more tours that have happened since then, but none have been reported.
This video explains the ordeal of an Aboriginal man that was taken on the star light tour; fortunately like Darrel Knight he survived. Alexus talks about how the police picked him up, and put him in the back of the police car. Later the police brought Alexus to the out skirts of Saskatoon, took his jacket and shoes then left him in the cold. He was lucky that a couple drove past him and offered him a ride back to town. Alexus was a very fortunate young man because he had survived even though left in the snow by the police.
Many Aboriginal men and women were affected by the Starlight tours this was discussed in the documentary “Two Worlds Colliding”. It 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. Neil Stonechild seventeen was found on the outskirts of Saskatoon in a remote field. He died from hypothermia, and was partially clothed with only one shoe on. The police had stated that Stonechild had died when he was walking from a convenience store to the correctional center to turn himself in for a break and enter. If that was the way Stonechild died there is no possible way his body would have been found so far out of the city unless he was taken there. 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.
This video explains how the Starlight tours affected Darrell Knight, and what happened to him on that freezing January night. 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.
The page for CBC.ca discusses the poisoned relationship between the police and First Nations communities in Canada. This article goes on to say that indeed aboriginals were brought to the outside of Saskatoon on a freezing night. February is known to be the coldest month in the Prairie Provinces. Also in this article they talk to Greg, an aboriginal who was lucky to have survived the starlight tour he was taken on three different “tours”. Greg says that the police told him that he can cool down his temper and to sober up while he walks home; it took Greg seven hours to walk home in -22 degree weather. When asked about this incident the police chief in responded” I would ask first that you have confidence in me as the chief of police and leader of this police service”. The only punishment that these two officers received was a suspension.
Recent articles have stated that here in B.C. the starlight tours benefited the serial killer 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 Aboriginal women, who he then took them to his farm and killed them. Pickton got the women to trust him, and the women probably thought that he was going to help them out; unfortunately the women surcame to a tragic ending. The police have said that it was not their intention to make the situation more dangerous for the women. By leaving any women in the middle of nowhere or in a dark area how did the police ever come to the conclusion that these women were not going to be in danger. 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. The inquiry into the role of the Vancouver Police and RCMP in the Pickton case is ongoing.
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. That was Maurice Punch’s theory, but the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations feel differently about individual being deviant. They see it more as systematic racism because it is only Aboriginal citizens that were taken on these tours, and are dying for no good reason. Also when convicted of preforming this practice the police officers involved receive only minor sentences. The jury of these cases are usually all white, as they were in the Darrell Knight trial where the officers got eight months,but only served four of them. Therefore to them it looks more like the system in a whole is involved, and trying to cover up what is happening. This was not a formally sanctioned policing practice. This was a practice that was not performed by the whole police force, but by individual officers. 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. Most of the time when police apply street justice they usually just ruff up the person involved and/or arrest with conditions, but when the person of Aboriginal race they are taken on the tour or drive. 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. If the police felt that these specific people should not be on the street because they were involved in drugs and alcohol, then the police officers should have arrested the aboriginal citizens involved, and not automatically hand them a death sentence. 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. You never hear of an incident where an Aboriginal citizen being arrested of drinking and driving, but you do hear about others races that do get arrested for drinking and driving.
There is not much media coverage, scholarly journals or information on this topic and that is because not many Aboriginal citizens will come forward to tell their story. When looking up the Starlight tours on the internet articles that appeared are about starlight concerts, houses for sell in Saskatchewan, and news about a Lady Gaga concert. There needs to be more information and awareness on this topic for everyone to understand what is happening to these innocent people. When you do find articles on the Starlight tours they are mostly about Neil Stonechild, even though, many young men and women have died on the tours. Even when looking for pictures most of the pictures are of Neil Stonechild, and maybe one or two of Darrell Knight. Not many people know that this practice is happening because there is not much information. Besides Stonechild all the other cases that ended in an Aboriginal citizen dying of hypothermia. Well of course they died of hypothermia anyone would if they were left in the middle of nowhere partially clothed. What I see is that all the courts were looking at was what these innocent people died from, but not why they died or even how they got so far away from the city. To think that these tours are still happening since it was found that it benefitted Robert Pickton. When is anyone going to be held accountable for the death of all these people? Darrell Knight came forward because one police officer believed him. Maybe no one is coming forward because they probably think that being Aboriginal citizens no one will believe what happened to them and who inflicted the pain upon them. More people need to come forward with their experiences not only to get justice, but to increase public awareness of this problem. The police are engaging mostly in street justice, by taking care of situations the way they see fit without taking the situation to a higher person. The Aboriginal citizens never got a chance to defend their actions, instead were sentenced to death. This practice also deals with racism, seeing that this has never happened to a person that is white. The police have to be held accountable for their actions without it being covered up by the system.