injusticebusters logo

Saskatchewan: Our home and racist land

Chief Perry BellegardThe FSIN has been more than patient. Now the cops have received the minimum charges they could have got. Assault? Not even aggravated assault? This is a travesty. Chief Perry Bellegard (left) said April 12 that attempted murder would be more appropriate. We agree. The confessions themselves are sufficient evidence to make such charges stick! FSIN hires shadow investigators

May 30, 2001: Saskatoon is named by Amnesty International as a place whose police force is guilty of torture and murder.


Community Response to Police Murder of two men in Saskatoon

The community immediately became alerted that the deaths of two Native bodies found separately and on different dates frozen to death in the same location were not isolated as the spin-doctors at Saskatoon Police Service claimed. We have all been hearing these stories for years. Many of us know people it has happened to. Some of us have filed complaints. We concluded nothing could be done and advised our friends not to be placed in a situation where this could happen to them.

The two bodies would have received little notice had not a third person, Darrell Night, survived the same experience. Scared for his life, he went to a lawyer who carefully broke the story in the media. This story was covered in Saturday Night magazine.

Queen Elizabeth Power StaionThen the media turned up an old column written by a police officer (who was told two years ago by Chief Dave Scott to stop writing it) that describes the modus operendus in chilling detail. What was presented as a humourous tale of two hard-working cops doing their jobs creatively -- dropping "drunken Indians" at the edge of town by the Queen Elizabeth Power Station (right) with the comment that the long walk back would sober them up.

Suddenly no one was laughing. The protest occurred in early February and included a march from the Indian Federated College to the Police Station. Halfway through the Friday night parade of people bearing candles and protest signs, which was solemn and accompanied by drums which could be heard for many blocks, several police cars showed up quietly, kept their distance and blocked traffic long enough to hear some speeches and hold a round dance. It was obvious that not all of the police approved of the cover-up.

The second demonstration was two weeks later and this time we filled Twentieth Street for several blocks, (top photo) and slowly proceeded from Avenue R all the way to the police station. There was a conference in town and Native representatives from every jurisdiction in Canada expressed their sorrow at the deaths and their outrage at the police actions. Non-native supporters -- we constituted about one fifth of the crowd were warmly welcomed. Everyone, including the police, knew that this was not a strictly Native issue. Saskatoon Vice-Chief Lawrence Joseph (pictured below) attended both marches.

Vice-Chief Lawrence Joseph

But that did not stop Chris Axworthy from trying to make it one. Certainly, it is important that conditions for Native inmates improve, especially since they constitute such a high proportion of the prison population. So far, the facilities which they have managed to get constructed have been available to all inmates. There are many Native people who do not blame every non-Native for their plight. But Axworthy's call for a parallel Native justice system -- which would be the responsibility of the Feds to sort out -- does nothing to foster understanding or tolerance but is simply mealy-mouthed lip-service to an issue he has no grasp of. But it gets us all off his back.

We are so grateful to Darrell Night! It was his courage which has brought the Saskatoon Police into the public spot-light and allow us to get some attention for Superintendent Dueck, the bullying cop who, as far as we know, picked mainly on white people, but those are only the ones we know about.

The Saskatoon Police Service needs a severe cleaning up and inJusticebusters trust that by working together, we just might make it happen!


Officers' hearing a private matter, gov't lawyer says

Preserving the fairness of a possible criminal trial outweighs the public's right to observe a hearing on the immediate future of twoKen Munson and Dan Hatchen Saskatoon police officers, a Justice Department lawyer argued Tuesday.

Justice lawyer and Crown prosecutor Terry Hinz said the public will get a chance to evaluate the conduct of the two officers accused of dumping a Native man outside of the city.

Future proceedings currently being contemplated, such as a criminal trial, a disciplinary hearing or a public inquiry, will give an open airing of all the facts surrounding the case, Hinz said.

Nancy Hopkins

For now, Saskatchewan Police Commission chair Nancy Hopkins should take pains to preserve the officers' right to fairness in those potential future hearings, Hinz said.

"Really the only thing being decided here is whether the officers should be paid or not," Hinz said at the hearing in the Radisson Hotel.

The provincial Justice Department is considering criminal charges against Saskatoon city police officers Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen. The department will not say how long it will take for a decision.

The two officers dropped Darrell Night on the outskirts of Saskatoon in January, forcing him to find his own way back into the city.

The officers were suspended, at first with pay, after they gave statements to police Chief Dave Scott. Scott has said they admitted to dropping Night off.

One month later the Saskatoon police commission extended the suspensions and took away the officers' pay. Mayor Henry Dayday, chair of the board, said the move was necessary to restore public confidence in the police force.

Hopkins will hear an appeal of the last decision by the two officers beginning Thursday, after she announces her decision on whether the hearing will be open to the public.

Hinz and the officers' lawyer, Drew Plaxton, argued the public doesn't need to hear the exact content of the statements by the officers right now.

"This is a review of the rather extraordinary power afforded the Saskatoon board of police commissioners and the chief of police to suspend an officer pending the outcome of an investigation," Plaxton said.

"This is an employee-employer issue. It is a private matter. The mere fact the public may be interested does not make it a public matter."

Geoff Dufour, lawyer for the CBC, who is arguing the public should have access, said public confidence in the justice system and the police force relies on all processes being open in this case.

He also pointed out that the Justice Department has not promised charges will be laid or that a public inquiry will be called. The police commission has not said any potential disciplinary hearings will be open to the public.

"You risk losing public confidence when it doesn't know what's going on behind these doors. There is no clear indication there will be a trial, or when that trial will be. It is so speculative as to not be worthy of serious consideration," Dufour said.

He said the questions that will be raised at the current hearing go far beyond the simple debate over whether the officers should be paid.

"It speaks to how the Saskatchewan Police Commission deals with these two public servants. It speaks to how the chief of police dealt with these two officers," he said.

"There will be debates in this hearing about public confidence in the police force. How can you have a debate about public confidence behind closed doors?"


Coroner's inquest to probe Naistus death

The provincial Justice Department is ordering a coroner's inquest into the suspicious death of 25-year-old Rodney Naistus in Saskatoon a year ago.

The department will make a similar announcement shortly in the death of 30-year-old Lawrence Wegner, who died under similar circumstances in the same area at the same time.

An RCMP task force is investigating the deaths of Naistus, Wegner and 17-year-old Neil Stonechild. Investigators recommended the coroner's inquest for Naistus after determining not enough evidence existed to warrant criminal charges.

Sources close to the task force say its members are frustrated by the 18-month investigation.

"They believe Naistus, (Lawrence) Wegner and (Neil) Stonechild got dropped by police, they just can't prove it," the source said.

"The bottom line is, if they don't get an admission or some information from an eyewitness there's nothing they can do until they go to the inquest."

The coroner has the power to compel individuals to testify under oath as to their role in the deaths of the men.

The task force passed along the Wegner file to Justice officials earlier this year. The RCMP members are still investigating Stonechild's death 10 years ago, the source said.

Naistus is the third coroner's inquest this year stemming from the death of a Native man in the city. This is the first inquest, however, where it's suspected police deliberately dropped off the person in freezing temperatures.

A passerby discovered Naistus's frozen and partially clothed body outside a feed plant on the southeastern edge of the city on Jan. 29, 2000.

In the previous inquest cases, Darcy Ironchild died of a drug overdose at home after his release from police cells. Lloyd Dustyhorn froze to death outside an apartment building after his release from police custody.

University of Saskatchewan law professor Norm Zlotkin says "the strength of an inquest is that it does get a lot of information before the public."

"The coroner is not supposed to directly lay blame on individuals, but nevertheless one can clearly see what's going on."

Key to the effectiveness of the inquest is who is allowed to call and question witnesses, Zlotkin said.

The problem with using an inquest under these circumstances is that the facts are in dispute. It's a more effective tool when it's examining an accepted practice, he said.

"It's very frustrating if the coroner can't determine how the men got to the edge of town," he said.

"We have a lot of witnesses who said they were dropped off outside of town and walked back to town. It's a notoriously common police practice everywhere. If you're looking at the death of a specific individual, then you still have to get that person out of town," he said.

"It's not an ideal way of discussing police behaviour. The key to the inquest may be witnesses that can link police officers with the deceased, even though the police officers are not identified and every officer has denied it.

"The fact that witnesses said three hours before he died, he was put in a police car on 20th Street, that would be enough to possibly get a coroner's jury to find that, as a fact, the deceased was taken by unknown police officers out of town and died from exposure," Zlotkin said.

The time, date and location of the Naistus inquest will be announced in the near future.

Lawrence Joseph, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, which has called for a sweeping public inquiry into the justice system, was not available Wednesday for comment.


'Blue veil of secrecy' alleged

Vice-Chief Lawrence Joseph of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said he believes the "blue veil of police secrecy" is alive and well in Saskatoon.

Joseph, speaking in Regina Thursday, was reacting to Wednesday's announcement by the provincial government to hold a coroner's inquest into last year's suspicious death of Rodney Naistus, 25, in Saskatoon. Investigators recommended an inquest into the death after determining there was insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges.

"I am frustrated, I am angry because it's the system that we live under and somebody knows something within the Saskatoon Police Service, and they're not saying it," Joseph said.

An RCMP task force is investigating the deaths of Naistus, Lawrence Wegner, 30, and Neil Stonechild, 17. The men were found frozen to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon in separate incidents. Joseph said there may be only circumstantial evidence of police involvement in the deaths of Naistus and Wegner, but he believes the whole story is not being told.

"We know darn well that this is a suspicious death. We know somebody did wrong," he argued.

He also referred to allegations by Darrell Knight that he was apprehended by Saskatoon police and dropped off in frigid weather outside the city in January 2000. Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, veteran Saskatoon constables, are to go on trial this fall on charges of assault and unlawful confinement in connection with the alleged incident.


Native man who fought with Regina police dies

Officer uses pepper-spray on man in ambulance

REGINA - Regina police are investigating the case of an aboriginal man who died Tuesday after he was pepper-sprayed in a fight with a police officer in the back of an ambulance.

When the ambulance arrived at the Regina General Hospital, Vernon Dale Crowe was declared dead. Moments before his altercation with ambulance staff and the police, the 32-year-old had suffered an apparent epileptic seizure inside the Souls Harbour Mission.

"Something terrible happened in the ambulance, and I don't know what," mission director Gerri Carroll said Wednesday.

"You see a healthy person walk out of here, and then they're dead."

She said Crowe, who had discussed his epilepsy with her before, was at the mission for a free supper Tuesday when he had a seizure. Staff rolled him on his side until it passed.

An ambulance had already been called and Crowe agreed to go with it, she said.

"He was a bit shaken, but emotionally he was together. He was not angry." That changed when Crowe suddenly became "combative" with staff in the back of the ambulance, Regina police Chief Cal Johnston told reporters. "It had to do with attending the hospital."

The ambulance staff called police twice in a two-minute span. When the first officer on the scene tried to restrain the patient, Crowe bit and head-butted him, Johnston said.

"At that point, the officer deployed pepper spray."

Three more police officers arrived. Police accompanied Crowe to hospital, the chief said.

The major crimes unit is investigating the death and will turn its findings over to the Justice Department and to the coroner, Johnston said. An autopsy was held Wednesday but the results weren't known.

Johnston said police are taught a range of restraining techniques, including arm holds, pepper spray and the police baton. They often have little time to decide which one to use.

"You have to remember the reason police were called. There were hazards already to paramedics and to this person's own safety. Officers are making very quick decisions around those circumstances as to what an appropriate response would be."

Johnston acknowledged there are conflicting reports about the effect of pepper spray on its target.

"There is no doubt that pepper spray may affect someone who has aggravating medical factors that a police officer may not be aware of at the time that it is deployed," he said.