Starlight Tours Synthesis and Commentary

Posted: December 1, 2011 by gossal91 in Starlight Tours

Starlight tours is a term used to describe a police practice whereby police officers pick up individuals – usually first nation citizens – in urban settings, drive them to remote rural areas, and drop them off, regardless of freezing temperatures. This practice has taken place in and around Saskatoon. The police allegedly do this because they are frustrated with the First Nations men who constantly are under the influence and instead of booking them they find it easier to just drop them off in a secluded area without shelter or any regard for how cold the temperature is. This practice can result in individuals freezing to death. Essentially, Sakej Henderson who teaches native law argues that starlight tours emerged as an alternative to taking people into custody, and therefore a way to avoid paperwork and court processes. These “starlight tours” usually took place at around anywhere between 12am-3am in the early morning. There is no agreed-upon record of how many incidents there were in total but, native leaders said that they have received over 250 calls about being on ‘tours’ . So far, there have been 76 reported cases of First Nations men being dropped off and two deaths because of the Starlight tours. Starlight tours are an example of police corruption because, the police are abusing their power by using disciplinary matters which is dropping off the native men in the cold to “discipline” them. Starlight tours draw a link between the tours and systemic racism and make a connection with the “Dirty Harry” phenomenon and the police officers.

Lawrence Wagner was last seen by people in downtown running on the streets causing a disturbance to the citizens in downtown as he was doped up on cocaine. Later that night, a man saw Lawrence Wegner getting into an argument with a police officer and was put into the police car and drove away. That was the last time Lawrence was seen alive and was found dead on the outskirts of Saskatoon. Another death that resulted from the Starlight tours was seventeen year-old Neil Stonechild who disappeared from his family about three or four blocks away from his mother’s home. Three days later, he was found frozen to death about eight kilometers from where he was seen in downtown Saskatoon just by his mothers house. No one noticed that he had gashes on his wrist and plenty of scrapes on his face and the fact that he was missing a shoe. The police did not follow through with this investigation and police stated that “He had died from a misadventure” because he was out drunk walking. Neil was known to police and the fact that his mother wanted answers the police ignored Neil’s mother because she was Native. Sixteen year-old Jason Roy was a witness to the brutal beating that Neil Stonechild took from the alleged police officers. After Neil’s death, the Native community gossiped and rumors speculated that the Saskatoon police officers were dropping off Native men in cold, deserted areas of Saskatoon and left to die. After January 2000, with two more native men found frozen to death, the Native community finally realized that the starlight tours were becoming more believable. The two Native men whose deaths caused speculations was Lloyd Dustyhorn, age 53 who was found frozen to death in Saskatoon. The other Native man was Rodney Naistus, age 25, who was also found frozen to death without a shirt on in the southwest industrial area of Saskatoon. Oddly enough Lawerene Wegner was also found frozen to death in the same exact area as Rodney Naistus in the southwest industrial region of Saskatoon. These deaths brought a lot of attention to the Saskatoon police department and the Native community wanted answers to these tragic deaths.

A huge breakthrough into the Starlight tours case was when Darrell Night who was a Native man who survived and was a victim of the starlight tours. The night that Darrell was picked up by the officers was -20 C which is extremely cold. He was wearing a jean jacket but was not wearing any gloves or even a hat. On Feb.4, 2000 Darrell Night alleges that the police officers through him out of the police car and left him in the cold for dead. Night identified the two police officers as Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen who were both veteran officers who left Night in the freezing cold. Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen were both suspended with pay for admitting to dropping off Night on the outer areas of Saskatoon. On March 10,2000, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen were charged of forcible confinement and the assault of Darrell Night and on Sept 20th, 2001, they were both found guilty. After a lengthy investigation by the RCMP into the Darrell Night case, on March 13, 2003 Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson were sentenced to eight months at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. The sentencing of Munson and Hatchen brought some justice and peace to the aboriginal community but it was still not enough justice that the aboriginals wanted. The Stonechild case was not brought to justice and the police officers who left Stonechild in the cold were not found by investigators. Keith Jarvis, who was in charge of the investigation, concluded that he got no support or co-operation from Stonechild’s family and friends.  On November 12, 2004, Saskatoon police chief Russ Sabo terminates two officers, Larry Hartwig and Bradley Sager, the officers still say that they had no contact with Neil Stonechild. On November 12, 2005, Neil Stonechild’s family sues the Saskatoon police and other officers involved including Bradely Sager and Larry Hartwig.

An important key issue was that deputy police chief, Dan Wiks testified that he had miss interpreted that he told the media there was no such link between two officers and Neil Stonechild’s disappearance. Then on Sept. 1, 2004, deputy police chief Dan wiks was charged with disreputable conduct under the police act. The Stonechild inquiry found out that Wiks lied when he told the media about the link between two officers and Stonechild when in fact, Wiks had seen a summary that stated that two officers were considerable suspects in the case. This is a very important issue because, it shows a significance that even a high ranking police official can lie to the public about a serious case. Because of Wiks lying about the case, the aboriginal community of Saskatoon has lost all trust in the Saskatoon police force and if trust is lost with the law, how can the aboriginal people ever trust or believe the police ever again?

Starlight Tours are closely linked with systemic racism in the sense that the police have differentiated treatment of an ethnic group which is the aboriginals. Having said that, because the aboriginals are a different race, they are treated differently by the police and are seen differently as well. In systemic racism the police officers are using racial profiling when dealing with an aboriginal man. For example: if an aboriginal man is walking down the street, a police officer is more likely to stop and search the aboriginal man because of his racial background. Starlight tours also reflect on Punch’s theory of the “Dirty Harry” phenomenon where police use an aggressive or unruly approach when targeting native men. The police will use “tough guy” actions like, dumping off an aboriginal man in a secluded, rural area of Saskatoon to “teach” the native man a lesson. Those actions are connected to the “Dirty Harry” typology of police attitudes. As to the government report of Neil Stonechild, the Commission of Inquiry heard testimonies from 64 witnesses over 43 days. The Commission finally brought a final report to the table containing its findings and recommendations to the Minister of Justice and also to the Attorney General. The “Bad Apple” theory describes an inappropriate way that police officers act. The “Bad Apple” theory can be applied to the officers involved in the Starlight Tours because, these officers were acting inappropriately towards aboriginal men by taking them on these tours in the middle of nowhere. Also Punch’s theory on “Meat-eaters” can be applied in the sense that these officers were physically engaged in the criminal act when they were beating and dropping off these men in the freezing cold.

The main reason what makes Starlight Tours significant is how these attacks on aboriginals show a great deal of racism and prejudice. Police officers are seen in the public as protectors of society against crime, but the officers involved in the tours are not seen as “protectors of society”, they are seen as racists and untrustworthy men of the law according to the Saskatoon aboriginal community. The significance is that even members of the law such as police officers can be racist and bend the rules just like any other citizen. The Starlight Tours portray these officers as untrustworthy and unworthy people because of their action. So how can the aboriginal community in Saskatoon ever trust the police after what they have done to their people? Since the Starlight Tours we should be concerned about our police force in the sense that, we should have faith in them and in their job. For example, after hearing the tragic deaths of the Starlight Tours, if a cop ever arrested me and put me in the back of the wagon, I would think twice to where they were actually taking me since I am a minority. These tours have brought a major interest to what really goes on when police are alone with a suspect and what they can do to that suspect without anyone knowing. Canada is portrayed to be a multicultural diverse country where any culture around the world can come and live without facing any oppression or racism, but in fact Canada is not merely close to that. Aboriginals in general have faced the most racism and discrimination towards their culture and these Starlight Tours are a perfect example of discrimination and prejudice. Systemic racism poses the most concern because this was the type of racism that was used towards the aboriginal victims in the tours. It is a terrifying reality of systemic racism because; it was institutionalized in the Saskatoon police force that all aboriginal men are drug and alcohol users so they must be punished more severely than non-aboriginal people. This shows that the police officers that were involved in the tours such as, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen have no moral judgement or a lack of moral judgement towards the aboriginal community; this is called the “Back Stage Theory” which is one of Maurice Punch’s theories about police officers.

Many issues and questions have risen since the Starlight tours. The main unresolved question that is lingering around the Neil Stonechild case is who is accountable for Neil Stonechild’s death? Could Larry Hartwig and Bradley Senger be accountable for Stonechild’s death since they were the ones who had the last contact with Stonechild? There is very little evidence that these two officers were involved in Stonechilds death, so should the Saskatoon police department be accountable for Stonechild’s death? In the case of Darrell Knight, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen only received an 8 month sentence but only served 4 months out of the 8. Why didn’t Hatchen and Munson get a more severe punishment and why did they only get to serve half of their sentence? Was this because they were police officers and they have the blue code of silence? These are some of the questions rising from the Starlight tours epidemic. One of the lessons learned from the Starlight Tours is that police can abuse their power to the extent of killing another person because of their judgments to other races. Also the fact that, systemic racism even occurs in the police force where people think that the police force would be the last place for any form of racism. The Starlight Tours does show us an awareness of police deviance and accountability in the sense that anyone, even the police can be accountable for criminal or deviance acts. This topic informs our thoughts about the police and if they can ever be trusted again after the Starlight Tours epidemic. The topic should show us a point of view that police deviance does occur in daily life and we should take this as a serious matter. Also the Starlight tours should change our thinking about police officers because they also can break the law.

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