Culture  Anti-Indigenous Policing

A Review of Two Worlds Colliding

Two Worlds Colliding, a 2004 documentary directed by Tasha Hubbard, tells the stories of the deaths of First Nations people by the hands of the police. It takes place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where the police have a known history of purposely murdering First Nations people by leaving them in freezing temperatures.

The story begins with the case of Darrell Night, a member of the Cree Nation, who was picked up by police officers at a party and then left on the outskirts of the city. The police left him in minus 20 degree weather. In the opening scene of the documentary, Night recounts the incident, saying, “I told them, ‘I’ll freeze to death out here,’ and I remember the driver there said, ‘that’s your f-ing problem,’ and they drove away.” Night made it to a nearby power station and later pressed charges against the two police officers involved. According to the documentary, many First Nations people have been found frozen in Saskatoon, and their deaths have either not been investigated thoroughly or they haven’t been investigated at all.

“I told them, ‘I’ll freeze to death out here,’ and I remember the driver said, ‘that’s your f-ing problem,’ and they drove away.” — Darrell Night

Oliver Williams, a First Nations man and a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP officer in charge of the Special Investigations Unit at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), alleges he has received hundreds of calls from First Nations people across the province, relaying to him various incidents of police violence and harassment. He stated, “I look at it from the perspective of a police officer, and I’m really ashamed at some of the stuff […] that police officers have been involved in […]; as a citizen […], I’m appalled; […] as a First Nations person, I’m angry; I’m hurt.”

The documentary brings the systemic racism of the Canadian judicial system to the forefront, historicizing the oppression of Indigenous peoples in the Prairie provinces. It highlights the “assaults led by the church and the Canadian government, residential school abuse, discriminations [through] the Indian Act, racism, and despair,” showing that the Canadian justice system has been deliberately structured and continuslly used to ensure the supremacy of whiteness and to deny Indigenous peoples basic human rights.

The scene revealing the verdict concerning the policemen who left Darrell Night stranded exposes the Canadian judicial system as unjust. While they were fired and convicted on charges of unlawful confinement, the two police officers, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen, were not found guilty of assault. Furthermore, they were only sentenced to eight months at a provincial correctional centre, but won’t have to serve more than four. The leniency of the sentence shows that white men in uniforms are above the law.

Where is the justice for Indigenous people in Canadian courts? In response to the outcome of the case, the documentary depicts a horrifying encounter of a white woman yelling: “why are these two taking the blame for everyone that’s dead? What about [Night’s] arrest record? I’m not racist, because my friends are Indian as well.” Evidently, whenever the system of oppression is shaken in even the slightest way, the privileged are overcome with fear about losing their privilege and being held accountable for their past, potentially racist, actions. Luckily, Night survived and was able to identify his attackers, but other Indigenous people who have frozen to death because of the police will not be able to identify theirs.

Where is the justice for Indigenous
people in Canadian courts?

In a similar case, the documentary tells the story of Lawrence Wegner, who was found frozen in a field outside Saskatoon. The police reported back to his family that when he died, he had not been wearing shoes or a jacket. However, Dan Worme, a lawyer from the firm representing Night, stated that “the evidence was pretty clear that those socks were not worn, and therefore, the suggestion that he walked from downtown to there was simply unbelievable.” Nevertheless, the RCMP Task Force responsible for the investigation of the deaths of Wegner and Rodney Naistus, another First Nations man killed this way, concluded that there was not enough evidence to press charges. Further, the coroners ruled that the cause of death could not be determined. Wegner’s mother responded to the outcome by stating,“my son was a human being, is it ok for [him] to die? It seems like we’re not valued as human beings.”

The documentary showed the efforts of First Nations leaders to bridge the gap between the police and the community. Upon coming to Saskatoon, newly-appointed Police Chief Russ Sabo said that “it became obvious that there was an issue in this city” with the way that police officers treat First Nations people. He was invited by First Nations leaders, including Walter Linklater, to “get involved with our ceremonies and [to] learn the culturally appropriate ways to begin to establish trust,” just as they had invited the previous police chief. Sabo attended and praised the ceremony, but an expression of tolerance and praise of diversity has no value if it is not accompanied by real effort to make meaningful change and address the systemic racism that Indigenous peoples in Canada face.

While Sabo has now added community liaison positions in the police force, there is still cause for concern, evidenced by statements made by officers in the new unit. Larry Hartwig, for example, stated that, as policemen, “[they] do not identify as white, as [Indigenous], as AfricanAmerican or African-Canadian or Asian, because when [they] become police officers, [they] become blue.” This argument of “not seeing” colour is one that white people can fall back on to renounce responsibility from their potentially racist actions. This dangerously disregards the institutional racism and white supremacy behind the experiences of people of colour.

The same system of oppression that hurts and kills Indigenous peoples protects police officers.

However, in 2004, Hartwig was found to have had Neil Stonechild, a 17-year-old First Nations boy, in his custody the night Stonechild froze to death. Stonechild’s friend, Jason Roy, witnessed the events of that night, recalling that “a police car pulled in front of [him], and Neil was in the back, […] he was saying ‘Jay, help me; […] these guys are gonna kill me.’ […] He had fresh blood on his face, across his nose.” A few days later, Stonechild’s body was found frozen. Oliver Williams said of the case, “it’s murder, as far as I am concerned. There was no question that whoever dropped him off out [there] knew that he had hardly any chance to get back. […] If you drop off someone that’s been beat up in minus 26 degree weather, he’s not going anywhere.”

Williams also spoke to what he called a “blue wall.” He explained that, “in a lot of cases, [when being questioned about their fellow officers], they know exactly what happened, but they just don’t say.” This leads to guilty police officers going unpunished, because their fellow officers, who were often the only other witnesses, do not hold them accountable. Oftentimes, officers also use coded language to feign innocence. For example, while on the stand, an officer used the term “unarrest” instead of “drop off” to describe the actions of the police, implying that what they did was to the benefit of the individual, even though their actions would have grave and possibly fatal consequences. In this sense, the same system of oppression that hurts and kills Indigenous peoples protects police officers.

Two Worlds Colliding provided insight into how Canada’s police force and judicial system have allowed crimes against Indigenous peoples to go unanswered for, in order to maintain a white supremacist system that has denied Indigenous peoples’ human rights since its inception.

Two Worlds Colliding is available to watch online at nfb.ca/film/two_worlds_colliding/.

Police — The McGill Daily & Le Délit Joint Issue