Marcel Stonechild's dream finally came true yesterday as a long-awaited inquiry was called into the death of his brother, Neil Stonechild, in a frozen field outside of Saskatoon more than a decade ago.
About a week after the 17-year-old's body was found in an industrial park in November, 1990, Marcel dreamed that his dead brother spoke to him. He told him to stop drinking so heavily and to have hope, because his killers would be found.
"I woke up crying, because I knew in my heart that the crime will not go unanswered," Mr. Stonechild said from his home in Winnipeg.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Eric Cline announced that Mr. Justice David Wright of the province's Court of Queen's Bench will lead an examination of Mr. Stonechild's death and of the way local police handled the case.
"There are questions concerning the conduct of the investigation as well as circumstances surrounding the death," Mr. Cline said.
The Stonechild incident is the oldest of six cases that recently raised suspicion about whether Saskatoon police made a habit of taking unruly native men to the edge of town and abandoning them.
Inquests into four similar freezing deaths have either failed to determine why the aboriginals died or found their deaths unrelated to police actions. In a fifth case, two Saskatoon police officers were convicted of unlawful confinement and given eight-month sentences after a native man survived being dropped off in a remote field without a jacket on a cold January night. The officers are appealing their convictions.
The largest RCMP task force in the province's history -- 19 officers from detachments in Regina, Yorkton, Swift Current and North Battleford -- was assigned in 2000 to examine the deaths.
RCMP spokesman Brian Jones said the task force has now largely completed its work. The investigation did not find enough evidence to lay further criminal charges, Mr. Cline said, but the inquiry should expose what was discovered.
"The main thrust of a judicial inquiry is to ensure there is a public airing of the results of the RCMP investigation and a public airing of the results surrounding the death," Mr. Cline said. "Justice will be done in the open light of day."
Mr. Stonechild said he wishes that the inquiry could restore the reputation of the police in the eyes of his family and the native community: "I'm hoping we can find some common ground to ease the tensions."
But it will be a difficult task, he said, given the history of the case. He has always suspected foul play in his brother's death, but the local police told him that it was a closed case because Neil Stonechild had walked by himself to the remote location where his frozen body was discovered. An autopsy found that he died of hypothermia.
The incident got renewed scrutiny after a witness came forward in 2000, saying he saw Neil being taken away in the back of a police cruiser on the night that he went missing.
That witness still lives near Saskatoon and will likely testify in the coming inquiry, said Greg Curtis, a partner in the Saskatoon law firm that represents the Stonechild family and other victims of freezing cases.
The inquiry could be useful to Mr. Stonechild's family because it might uncover information that is relevant to a future lawsuit, he said. Two other families are already planning to submit claims this month after inquests into the freezing deaths of their relatives, he added, and an average claim in such cases would be $2-million.
Reached at her home in Cross Lake, Man., Neil Stonechild's mother Stella Bignell said she plans to attend as much of the inquiry as possible. "I'll go, but it's hard for me," she said.
Like his mother, Mr. Stonechild said that yesterday's news evoked unwelcome memories. The prospect of an inquiry is painful, he said, but it is necessary.
"I know that there are good cops out there. I'm not going to crucify all cops. But there are racist cops out there, too, and they have to find them."
Dave Haye, vice-president of the Saskatoon Police Association, said the officers are looking forward to the inquiry because it should end the long controversy over the deaths.