In the 90s and early 2000s, the Saskatoon Police Service faced public and legal scrutiny for practicing what became colloquially known as the "Starlight Tours." In summary, a Starlight Tour happens when an Indigenous person, frequently Indigenous men, is picked up by the police at night and abandoned outside of the city limits in subzero termpatures. An egregious abuse of power, tours were carried out in winter, and the men were left to freeze. This practice came to public eye after one man, Darryl Night, survived an attempted tour and filed a complaint against the SPS officers.
It was only after Darryl Night came forward that the deaths of Neil Stonechild, Rodney Naistus, and Lawrence Wegner were deemed suspicious. Because of existing prejudice and racism within the police force, it was assumed that these men had 'gotten drunk' and wandered off into the night. When Darryl Night came forward with his complaint, it triggered a demand for an independent inquiry into the deaths of Stonechild, Naistus, and Wegner. The two officers implicated in the Darryl Night case were found guilty of unlawful confinement and were fired from the police force and sent to jail for a minimum sentence. The Wright Inquiry into the death of Neil Stonechild implicated the Saskatoon Police Service in the death of Stonechild. It found that their initial investigation was superficial and completely inadequate. Justice Wright also determined that Stonechild was in the care of the police the night of his murder and they were ultimately at fault for his death, though no officers have ever been formally charged. The inquiries into the deaths of Naistus and Wegner made no conclusive statements, but it is imperative to acknowledge they are victims of Starlight Tours as well.
The freezing deaths of Indigenous men in Saskatoon exacerbated the already strained relationship between the Saskatoon Police Service and the Indigenous community. Many Indigenous people reported to the special investigator appointed by the FSIN that they were fearful of the police and did not feel comfortable reporting concerns out of fear that their claims would not be taken seriously. The inquiry revealed a distinct lack of trust in the police service, respondents fearing that more community members would one day too be victims of a Starlight Tour. Over-policing in city areas with a high representation of Indigenous residents contributes to this unequitable power imbalance, makes Indigenous residents feel like they are constantly under surveillance, and is a function of systemic racism that unjustly categorizes Indigenous people as 'trouble-makers.' Starlight Tours also reveal disturbing colonial ideology which places value on the lives of white settlers over the lives of Indigenous peoples, reflected by the failure to address the suspicious deaths and the initial explanation of accidental death by intoxication. Starlight Tours, and the dismissal of Naistus, Wegner, and Stonechild's deaths as a result of "intoxication" by public agencies demonstrates how systemic racism endangers the lives of Indigenous people.
- Razack, Sherene. ""It Happened More than Once": Freezings Death in Saskatchewan." Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 26, no. 1 (2014): 51-80.
- The Honourable Mr. Justice David H. Wright. Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild. Government of Saskatchewan. October 2004.