CBC In Depth
Who was Neil Stonechild?
CBC News Online | Nov. 3, 2005

Neil Stonechild was found frozen to death several days after Jason Roy says he last saw him in police custody.
A lot has been written and said about Neil Stonechild, the 17-year-old found frozen to death in a remote field in Saskatoon in November of 1990. But his life, trials and dreams open a window into a vibrant person who was struggling to overcome personal demons in an attempt to live a full and normal life.

Stonechild was charismatic, good looking and popular. Among his friends was Jason Roy. He was with Stonechild the night he disappeared.

"Neil loved life. He was a giving person who enjoyed just being a young kid," says Roy.

Roy and Stonechild were typical teenagers. They were not angels; both had a history of criminal behaviour. But people around Stonechild saw more than a life of crime and alcoholism.

In 2000 people marched through the streets of Saskatoon protesting what they were calling racist behaviour in the Saskatoon Police force.
Stonechild was a painter whose mural can still be seen hanging on the walls of the Kilburn Hall detention centre. He was also an accomplished wrestler, winning a bantam weight provincial title.

He was in Alcoholics Anonymous and hadn't missed a meeting, though he had been drinking the night he disappeared.

The Saskatoon police department has been forced to defend itself in recent years over allegations of misconduct after several men were found frozen to death in remote parts of the city.

Another aboriginal man, Darrell Night, came forward in February of 2000 to say he had been left on the outskirts of town in sub-zero temperatures. Two police officers, Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, were found guilty of unlawful confinement and sentenced to eight months in jail.

Jim Maddin is the Mayor of Saskatoon and was a sergeant with the Saskatoon Police force when Stonechild died.

"With respect to the Neil Stonechild file, there was certainly concerns raised in and around the police service after the event. I can't pin down exactly when, but I know that it did become knowledge to most of the members that gee, there may have been some involvement by a couple of members of the police service with Mr. Stonechild at about the time of his demise."
The controversy renewed interest in Stonechild a decade after his death. Until the largest RCMP investigation in Saskatchewan history was launched, his fate was considered by many to be an unfortunate death of a street kid.

"When people say Neil was a street kid, that's not so. His mom loved him to death. His brothers and sisters were close with him. Neil's choice of lifestyle was more the fact that he was 17 years old," says the woman who ran the group home where Stonechild lived. She agreed to speak on the condition we protect her identity. We call her Laurie.

Stonechild and Roy had been spending a lot of time together. The night Roy saw Stonechild for the last time, Stonechild was considered unlawfully at large because they hadn't been back at the home in days.

"He was a kind-hearted person who was genuine and was able to be himself around his friends and his family. Neil loved life," says Roy.

Like the lyrics of a popular song by their favourite group Guns and Roses, the boys enjoyed engaging in "fun'n'games." But there was a price to pay for that. For Stonechild, that meant frequent run-ins with police. Friends Wanita Bird and Sharon Night say Stonechild had been beaten by police on at least two occasions prior to the night he disappeared.

Russell Sabo is the current Saskatoon Police Chief. CBC asked him if he was aware whether police were in the habit of leaving Aboriginal men outside of town.

"We had indicated, as I understand, that we didn't have any other incidents of this nature. In fact, we have. And that's come to my attention and I think we have to take ownership of things that have transpired. It happened more than once and we fully admit that and, in fact, on behalf of the police department I want to apologize to those people who we had said it was a one-of-a-kind incident."
The last time he saw Stonechild, Roy says, his friend was handcuffed and bleeding in the back of a police cruiser. Roy says he denied knowing Stonechild, who was screaming at him from the back of the car. Scared that he too would be arrested, Roy gave police a false name and was free to go. He says Stonechild had a cut on his face.

"Help me. They're going to kill me," are the last words Roy says he heard from Stonechild.

Laurie says Stonechild had a healthy sense of humour. She remembers how he used that humour to deal with difficult issues he faced.

"We had another young man in the group home who sort of thought he was a white supremacist and was very down on anything native or different," she says. "Neil got it going around the table and with the family one night that everybody would call this boy a spic. And so every time the boy would say pass the potatoes, Neil would pipe up, and laugh, 'Oh the spic would like the potatoes' and, of course, it got funnier and funnier, and this other boy realized how it felt to be native, and it quit."

Stonechild's mother Stella Bignell, Laurie and his highschool teachers describe him as a likeable guy with lots of potential. They say he was making strides at fixing his personal problems.

"I think he was getting fairly good marks; the teachers liked him," Laurie says. "I was in contact with the teachers on a fairly regular basis to see how the boys did in school, and the consensus at that time is that he was doing very well."

Father Andre Poilievre was a prison chaplin. Jason Roy confided in him about what happened the night Stonechild disappeared. He feared for Roy's safety after being told that Roy's wife had been picked up by police. The Roy family was eventually put into an RCMP witness protection program.

"I remember one morning going to the house at 9 o'clock, before going to work, to make sure the young family had food for breakfast. I saw a police car cruising around there...this is a residential area...okay...it made a u-turn right next to the house and I said this is funny. So I thought, I better check this out. So I jumped in my vehicle and moved away half a block...and sure enough it came back. So I drove by this police officer's car and the car just took off. And then I was convinced...now I'm becoming paranoid...so I told Jason that I didn't think that his family could stay in that house much longer because it wasn't safe."
Stonechild doesn't seem to fit the profile of a dead-end drunk. He was in constant contact with his family and social workers. He was liked by his teachers and seemed to be conquering his obstacles to leading a productive life.

"I think Neil had a really good support system in his family," says Laurie. "He was very close to his mom, he had brothers and sisters, he had lots of friends, so I think unlike a lot of the kids who stayed with us, Neil had quite a good support system."

According to Laurie, on the night Stonechild vanished, he spoke with her for about a half hour.

She says he had been drinking and wasn't planning to come back to the home that evening, which was not considered very out of the ordinary. He also promised her that he would come home the next day, something he told her he had also promised his mother.

The night Stonechild disappeared, he and Roy had been ringing buzzers and waking people up at an apartment complex.

Stonechild's ex-girlfriend, Lucille Horse, was babysitting and the boys were trying to track her down. That's when police were called.

In 2003, the government of Saskatchewan called an inquiry into his death. The inquiry began on Monday, September 8th, 2003. Final arguments concluded on May 19, 2004. On October 26, 2004, the province released the report of the Stonechild inquiry.


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