Police brutality is a lot like professional football in Canada. Most people in the United States don't even realize they have it, and those who do assume it's just some pussified version more befitting the rampant politeness that we've come to associate with that frosty-ass country. However, just like the most decorated quarterback in professional football history played his entire career in the CFL, some of the most outrageous instances of police brutality in recent history have quietly been happening in Canada. We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by my fellow Cracked co-workers Cody Johnston and Randall Maynard.
Insane law enforcement antics in Canada are also the subject of this column, but before we get to it, I'd like to make something clear. This should not be taken as some sort of half-hearted attempt to reassure anyone that things aren't all that bad here in the United States. No, things are 25 different sizes of fucked-up right now in this country, and everyone knows it.
That doesn't mean things are a whole lot better anywhere else, though, and the "anywhere else" in this case just happens to be Canada, because when you're talking about a country that's routinely mocked for being nice, the last thing you expect to hear about is shit like ...
5The Saskatoon Freezing Deaths (aka "Starlight Tours")
So here's a guy who deserves his own movie. In the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 2000, Darrell Night, a member of the Cree Nation, was picked up by two Saskatoon police officers (both white) after a drunken argument at his uncle's apartment got a bit out of hand. Like any clear-thinking intoxicated person, he expected to be taken to the town drunk tank to sleep off his buzz. That didn't happen. Instead, Night was driven three miles out of town, removed from the vehicle, had his head slammed against the hood, his handcuffs removed, and was told to walk back. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a denim jacket, and running shoes. In January. At night. In Canada.
Julie de Leseleuc/iStock/Getty Images
Pictured: Downtown Saskatoon
Unsurprisingly, he assumed he was going to die. It wasn't just a working knowledge of how the human body handles exposure to cold weather that led him to this conclusion, either. That police in Saskatoon would routinely take First Nation people picked up for being drunk and disorderly to the outskirts of town, often during the winter, and tell them to sober up on the walk home was common knowledge in the area. The act of doing that actually has a name. It's called a "Midnight Blue Tour" or "Starlight Tour", and that it was commonplace in Saskatoon was more like a legend at the time, but one based on the fact that, over the years, several First Nation people in Saskatoon turned up dead of hypothermia on the edge of town, for reasons that no one could ever really explain.
In that moment, Night had the explanation, but he also had an unwillingness to be, in his words, "one more dead Indian." He set off walking and eventually made his way several miles to a power plant, where a night watchman let him in.
Pictured: A stock photo of some random power plant
Having survived the ordeal, he immediately filed a complaint. His story prompted human rights watch group Amnesty International to issue a report criticizing the pattern of abuse against First Nation men by police in Saskatoon. It had all the makings of a huge international news story when the two officers involved, Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson, were finally sentenced for their crime ... in September 2001. Unfortunately, that timing means that if it was major news in the United States at the time, 9/11 would have guaranteed it didn't stay that way for long.
Sorry, we forgot.
That said, those two constables did go to prison (for eight entire months), and Night's story prompted inquiries into several other suspicious deaths, including a man named Neil Stonechild who, according to a friend, was last seen getting into a police car before eventually turning up dead from exposure on the outskirts of Saskatoon.
Unfortunately, in every case other than Night's, no police misconduct was ever proven, and no additional charges were filed. To add a truly sad ending (so far) to an already sad story, in 2003 a police official admitted that Starlight Tours may have been a common practice for decades within the department after it came to light that a Saskatoon cop was disciplined for abandoning a native woman outside of town in 1976. So how long was it happening before that one person got "disciplined" in 1976? I don't know, but "forever" is probably a decent guess.
This series of events came to be known as The Saskatoon Freezing Deaths, and that movie I pined for at the beginning of this entry already happened. Do the entire world a favor and watch it sometime. Do me a favor and keep reading for now, though.
4The Pro Football Player Forced to Retire After Being Beaten by Police and Framed for Cocaine Possession
Orlando Bowen was a linebacker in the Canadian Football League, which is like the National Football League except the fields are 10 yards longer and almost none of you reading this even know it exists. So you can definitely be forgiven if, just like for me, the absurdly sad story of what happened to Bowen on the night of March 26, 2004, never really became a part of your daily news cycle.
While out celebrating a new contract he'd just signed with the Toronto Argonauts, Bowen was approached by two men in front of a nightclub. They asked for drugs. He explained that he didn't have any and, when the men persisted, he tried to get away. At that point, he heard the exact words no one running away from another person wants to hear: "Stop or I'll shoot!"
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images
"Totally kidding; I'll shoot either way!"
Bowen immediately realized he was dealing with police, so he froze, assuming it was all a misunderstanding. I guess in some sense of the word he was correct about that, but it's unlikely he took "misunderstanding" to mean he was about to be severely beaten and subsequently arrested for assaulting a police officer. As he sat in a holding cell, he was notified that a charge of cocaine possession had been tacked on as well, which must have come as quite a shock, considering he didn't have drugs on him at the time.
Well, that was his story, at least. Bowen claimed the drugs were planted on him. Given recent events in the NFL (and by recent, I mean like the last 30 years or so), I understand if you have a healthy amount of skepticism about a professional athlete's claims that the cocaine he was arrested with on the night he was out celebrating a new contract didn't actually belong to him.
A standard feature of any professional sports contract.
Would it help if I pointed out that Bowen, just weeks prior, had teamed up with this very police department to work on youth outreach programs to keep kids away from gangs and drugs? Or how about that he taught a racial sensitivity class at that same police department? Clean criminal record? Extensive record of community service and charity work? Would any of that do anything to ease your doubts?
It sure as shit didn't do much for the courts in Canada. Bowen was convicted solely on the testimony of the two cops who arrested him, and the charges stuck for well over a year. That all changed when one of the arresting officers, Sheldon Cook, was himself arrested for ... you guessed it ... trafficking cocaine. It was then that a judge finally decided the testimony against Bowen was probably less than credible and dropped the charges against him. A lawsuit was filed and settled out of court, but the effects of the beating Bowen suffered that night ended his career in the CFL.
Remarkably, Bowen remained nothing but positive throughout the ordeal, going so far as to say he only felt sorry for Cook and his accomplice as they delivered the false testimony that temporarily sealed his fate. He's gone on to a long and successful career as a motivational speaker and, this past March, 10 years after the incident, wrote a letter of forgiveness to the cops who almost took his life that night. Give it a read and have fun weeping uncontrollably while having your image of professional football players as steroid-riddled aggression machines challenged forever.
Oh, and since we're on that subject!