A Saskatoon bookstore has pulled a scheduled book launch out of respect after realizing the date fell on the 25th anniversary of a freezing death at the centre of the book.
On Wed., Nov. 25, McNally Robinson planned to host author Candis McLean and her new book titled “When Police Become Prey: the cold, hard facts of Neil Stonechild’s freezing death.”
However, they pulled the event after realizing the coincidence that the event landed on the 25th anniversary of Stonechild’s death.
Events coordinator Marcy Hildebrand said they didn’t realize the upsetting coincidence of the event date.
“This timing is totally inappropriate, and we cancelled the event out of respect for his (Stonechild’s) family and the community,” she said.
Jason Roy was with Stonechild on Nov. 25, 1990, before his frozen body was found in the northwest end of Saskatoon. Roy said he was disgusted at first when he learned about the new book and when it was set to be launched.
“I see it as a clear indicator of the lack of respect for this young boy’s life that was lost it puts a bad taste in my mouth,” Roy told News Talk Radio. “I don’t believe for one second that they didn’t realize the significance of that date, not at all.”
However, Roy is relieved to see that McNally Robinson is pulling the plug on the event out of respect for Stonechild’s friends and family.
“I was in shock they were going to be doing this and after speaking to some people and putting a stop to it, I felt so relieved that they took the right point of view when it came to this sensitive subject,” he said.
McLean told News Talk she goofed on the date; however she said the Nov. 25 date of Stonechild’s death is contested.
“The pathologist assigned the date of death as Nov. 27, but the activists claim it was Nov. 25, they must know something that the doctor doesn’t,” McLean said. “I feel badly, I certainly didn’t wish to offend anyone but Nov. 25 was not assigned the date of Stonechild’s death.”
While the launch has been cancelled at McNally-Robinson, the event has moved the Army, Navy and Air Force Veteran’s Centre downtown.
Rather than attending the launch on Wednesday, Roy – alongside friends and family – is hosting a remembrance dinner for Stonechild. The Feast for Neil Stonechild will be held at St. Thomas Wesley Church in Saskatoon.
In her new book, McLean presents evidence exonerating two Saskatoon police officers, Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger, from any wrong-doing, citing evidence in more than 2,000 pages that witnesses were supressed and the right people weren’t interviewed during the 2004 RCMP inquiry into Stonechild’s death.
McLean points to the medical examiner that looked at more than 40 photos of Stonechild’s frozen body and came to different conclusions than the inquiry.
“Another witness, Dr. Valerie Rao, she said to me those were not handcuff marks on Stonechild’s hand. She said, ‘I deal with marks all the time and these were not, they were too far down on his hand’,” McLean said. “She sent this report to the Stonechild inquiry and she wasn’t called to testify, which she thought was extremely strange.”
An ambulance attendant on scene told McLean the marks on Stonechild’s hands likely came from the cuffs on the jacket he was wearing.
“I believe there has been huge suppression of information which needs to come out,” McLean said. “The justice system in Saskatchewan was set on saddling two police officers with his death and in order to do that they had to ignore much evidence showing police could not have done this.”
A 2004 RCMP inquiry into Stonechild’s death showed the teen had wounds on his wrists consistent with being in handcuffs. The inquiry concluded that Hartwig and Senger did have Stonechild in custody prior to his body being found motionless and frozen. The two officers were fired following the inquiry.
But Roy, even 25 years after, still maintains his side of the story.
“I’ll always stand behind my story — I’m up for the challenge and my perspective is never going to change, I know what happened I was there,” Roy said.
He maintains that he saw the 17-year-old Stonechild in the back of a police car screaming for help. Hours later, Stonechild’s frozen body was discovered by police, and the cause of death was hypothermia.
Despite the book signing being derailed, Hartwig and McLean plan to host a news conference on Tuesday. On a Facebook post Hartwig wrote, “I am afraid it is going to be very embarrassing for some. I really wish it didn’t turn out this way but now that the real story is starting to be told, I have no intention of being quiet anymore.”
McLean hopes she gathers enough signatures online supporting an independent investigation into Stonechild’s death, by a team outside the province.
“People will read the book and be disgusted and deeply disturbed that something like this could occur in my home province,” McLean said.