Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Finally, the beginning of justice for Neil Stonechild 

Here are the Summary findings of the Stonechild report today. If you haven't heard of this before, the Globe story provides the background to the case.
Justice Wright says:
"1. Neil Stonechild [a 17-year-old Aboriginal boy] was the subject of two complaints of causing a disturbance [due to drunkenness] on the evening November 24, 1990.
2. Constable Bradley Senger and Constable Larry Hartwig, members of the Saskatoon Police Service, were dispatched at 11:51 p.m. to investigate a complaint about Neil Stonechild at Snowberry Downs.
3. Hartwig and Senger arrived at Snowberry Downs within minutes and carried out a search of the area. In the course of doing so, they encountered Neil Stonechild.
4. The constables took Stonechild into custody.
5. In the early morning hours of November 25, 1990, Stonechild died of cold exposure in a field in the northwest industrial area of Saskatoon.
6. Neil Stonechild’s frozen body was found in a field in the northwest industrial area of Saskatoon on November 29, 1990.
7. There were injuries and marks on Stonechild’s body that were likely caused by handcuffs.
8. The Saskatoon Police Service carried out an investigation. The preliminary investigation properly identified a number of suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.
9. The principal Investigator assigned to the case, Morality Sergeant Keith Jarvis, carried out a superficial and totally inadequate investigation of the death of Neil Stonechild.
10. Jarvis was informed by Jason Roy that Neil Stonechild was in the custody of the Saskatoon Police Service when Roy last saw Stonechild on the night of November 24/25, 1990. Jarvis did not record this important information in his notebook or Investigation Report.
11. Jarvis and his superior, Staff Sergeant Theodore (Bud) Johnson, concluded the investigation almost immediately and closed the file on December 5th, 1990, without answering the many questions that surrounded the Stonechild disappearance and death.
12. Jarvis dismissed important information provided to him by two members of the Saskatoon Police Service relating to the Stonechild disappearance and death.
13. In the years that followed, the chiefs and deputy chiefs of police who successively headed the Saskatoon Police Service, rejected or ignored reports from the Stonechild family members and investigative reporters for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix that cast serious doubts on the conduct of the Stonechild investigation. The self-protective and defensive attitudes exhibited by the senior levels of the police service continued, notwithstanding the establishment of an RCMP Task Force to investigate the suspicious deaths of a number of Aboriginal persons and the abduction of an Aboriginal man. These same attitudes were manifested by certain members of the Saskatoon Police Service during the Inquiry."
The full report is here. I haven't had a chance to read it all yet -- note that Justice Wright was to find out why Stonechild died, but not to express "any conclusion or recommendation regarding civil or criminal responsibility of any person or organization." The Summary is devastating, however, clearly demonstrating Wright's opinion that police officers were criminally responsible for Stonechild's death because they abandoned him in a field in the middle of winter, and that much of the department was engaged in a cover-up -- during the inquiry hearings, police denied everything in the findings except 1, 2 and 6.
Whether there will ever be enough evidence to take someone to trial, however, is unknown -- unless someone now talks.
I listened to Stonechild's mother on the radio after this report was released -- she talked about forgiveness, but also said how much she still missed her boy. But can we ever forgive ourselves for how we have treated Aboriginal people in this province? It's been a trail of tears for more than a century.

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