A teen’s suspicious death, a shocking police cover-up and a mother’s search for the truth.
In 1990, on a November night that hit –28 degrees Celsius, seventeen-year-old Neil Stonechild disappeared only blocks from his mother’s home. His frozen body was found three days later, eight kilometres from where he was last seen in downtown Saskatoon. The police investigation was cursory — no one seemed to wonder about the abrasions on his wrists or the scrapes on his face, or the fact that he was missing a shoe. Neil was drunk and out walking, the police believed, and had died by misadventure. His mother, Stella Bignell, tried her best to push for answers, but no one in authority wanted to listen to a native woman whose sons had often been in trouble with the law.
But Stella did not give up, and neither did the only witness, sixteen-year-old Jason Roy, who had seen Neil, beaten and bleeding, in the back of a Saskatoon police cruiser the night he disappeared. Starlight Tour recounts their struggle for justice in the face of indifferent officials, destroyed police files and institutionalized racism. In the decade following Neil’s death, rumours persisted that police sometimes drove natives beyond the edge of town and abandoned them. But it was only in January 2000, when two more men were found frozen to death, that the truth about Neil Stonechild’ s fate began to emerge. A third man, Darrell Night, survived his “starlight tour,” and lived to tell the tale. And soon one of the country’s most prominent aboriginal lawyers, Donald Worme, was on the case.
With exclusive co-operation from the Stonechild family, Worme, and other key players, and information not yet revealed in the press coverage, Starlight Tour is an engrossing and damning portrait of rogue cops, racism, obstruction of justice and justice denied, not only to a boy and his mother but to the entire country’s native community.
Rob Renaud is the Regional Director of CBC Radio Ottawa and Susanne Reber is Executive Producer, Investigations, CBC News. They worked together for over seven years leading CBC National Radio News and have won a number of awards for investigative journalism. They have been researching the Neil Stonechild case for three years.
“Starlight Tour documents in clear, direct prose the death of Neil Stonechild. With compassion and grace, it exposes what has become all too ordinary, in language that refuses to victimize the family.” —Governor General’s Literary Award Jury Citation
“Starlight Tour is a vital chronicle of a tragedy that opened many eyes and yet still remains as painfully relevant as ever. A devastating portrait of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and a justice system that has offered us little real justice, it is as important for Canadians to read now as it was when first published and exposes just how long past due systemic reform is.” —Jesse Wente, CBC Radio
“Searing, unforgettable, important, haunting, thorough, infuriating, heartbreaking and sometimes inspiring, Starlight Tour is journalism at its best. This book will change you.” —Peter Edwards, author of The Bandido Massacre and One Dead Indian
“For justice junkies like myself, this is a deeply engrossing account. . . . Should be compulsory reading for Canadian police recruits from sea to shining sea.”
–William Deverell, The Globe and Mail
“The Stonechild story is ably captured by veteran CBC journalists Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud in a thoroughly researched, deftly written work. . . . A powerfully written, meticulously researched work with a cinematic feel, which should be on reading lists for students of Canadian history, journalism or law enforcement.”
“The suspenseful and meticulous account of a very real and dark chapter in Canada’s modern history.”