The Globe and Mail; With a report from Canadian Press
Thursday, February 17, 2000
It was starless and Bible black the night Lawrence Wegner disappeared, but
cold enough over the next couple of days -- minus 18 degrees -- that his body
was frozen solid when it was found in a stubble field on the outskirts of
Depending on whom you talk to, no footprints led to the body when workers
near the Queen Elizabeth II power plant found it on the morning of Feb. 3. Or
there were footprints, just as there were footprints leading to the body of
another aboriginal man, Rodney Naistus, whose frozen corpse was found near the
power plant on Jan. 29.
Yesterday, Saskatchewan's Justice Minister ordered the RCMP to probe
allegations that Saskatoon Police officers may be involved in the deaths. Two
veteran Saskatoon officers have been suspended.
The developments follow a complaint Feb. 3 -- the day Mr. Wegner was found
dead -- from a third aboriginal man, Darrell Night. He said officers stripped
him of his jacket, threw him out of their cruiser and told him to walk back to
the city in freezing temperatures.
Don Worme, Mr. Night's lawyer, said his
client alleges the policemen repeatedly made racial slurs.
Saskatoon Police Chief David Scott said Mr. Night came forward "because he'd
heard that a body had been found.
"There's no link at all yet," the police chief said. "We're trying to figure
out if there is a link or if it's just a coincidence."
Chief Scott said he cannot identify the suspended policemen. However, sources
say they are constables Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen, uniformed officers with
about 18 years' experience each.
Chief Scott said the officers deny any involvement in the deaths of the two
"They can understand the perception that they might have had something to do
with this, but at this point we have no indication that the two events [the
discovery of the bodies and the complaint of the third man] are related," Chief
Scott said in an interview.
Aboriginal leaders had demanded an independent probe by the RCMP after
the frozen bodies of Mr. Wegner, 30, and Mr. Naistus, 25, were found
near the North Saskatchewan River south of Saskatoon.
Several police sources told The Globe and Mail yesterday that it was common
knowledge among the force that some members would take unruly suspects out near
the power plant and abandon them in the cold. The area is about a 10-minute walk
from the outskirts of Saskatoon.
"They've been doing that for years," one source with close links to the force
said. "I've never done it," that person said. "But I know of people who have. If
the guy pissed them off or if they didn't have enough to lock them up, they'd
take him for a drive."
Chief Scott reiterated that the officers accused by the third man were "very
forthright" and that there is nothing to link them to the deaths. "I suspended
these members simply because I want to maintain public trust and the trust of
our aboriginal community," he told a news conference.
The police chief said prosecutors will review the facts to see whether
charges are warranted. He said the officers came forward voluntarily, have been
co-operative and have offered to take polygraph tests.
A source inside the department said colleagues who worked the same shifts
urged the officers to come forward because suspicion had been cast on others.
"The department was fingering two other guys. But the shifts got together and
said you'd better fess up. The 'blue wall' went down," the source said.
Asked about this, Chief Scott said: "That's true. There was a lot of talk
around the station. The two officers didn't want somebody else's name linked to
this. They came in on their days off. They were very forthright."
Another police source confirmed it was known that some officers would take
suspects to the outskirts of town and force them out in the cold.
"It's been going on for years. Unfortunately, this time two guys ended up
dead. If it's those guys who did it, let them fry," he said. "Who I feel sorry
for is the rest of the guys; it gives the whole department a bad name."
The police chief promised to keep aboriginal leaders informed of
"My assurance is that if at the end of this investigation [native leaders]
feel in any way that I jeopardized or neglected my duty, I will tender my
Aboriginal leaders applauded Chief Scott's decision to ask for outside RCMP
and Justice Department involvement.
"That's very positive," said George Lafond, vice-chief of the Saskatoon
Tribal Council. "We're hoping this process gets us some answers."
Mr. Lafond said he will await developments.
"Our chiefs were very distressed to hear of the incident where a man was
taken out of town and left in the cold," he said.