A promotional event in Regina for a book that examines “starlight tours” by police was moved to four different venues before the author cancelled her book-signing.
However, the author, Candis McLean, met with people outside and said they were very reasonable.
Starlight tour is the term that has been attached to allegations that police, after encountering intoxicated Indigenous people, would drive them to the edge of the community and leave them there, ostensibly to walk back into the community and, in so doing, sober up.
McLean’s book, The Cold Hard Facts, was released Nov. 28, 2015 with a launch in Saskatoon. Since then, the original publisher left the business and McLean has self-published the work.
‘The people I met were very open-minded and lovely.’– Candis McLean
Her book is critical of the work and findings of an inquiry that was held to look into the death of a Saskatoon teen, Neil Stonechild.
Stonechild’s frozen body was found on the outskirts of the city in November 1990.
Police said his death was accidental and Stonechild’s case faded from the public eye for 10 years — until two more Indigenous men were found frozen to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon within one week. Finally, in 2003, the provincial government agreed to repeated demands that it call an inquiry into Stonechild’s death.
The inquiry concluded the teen was in custody of police the night he died. Two officers were later dismissed from the police service.
- CBC News Indepth: Who was Neil Stonechild?
McLean’s book-signing event Saturday was cancelled after four venues backed out, including Chapters and three hotels.
“I was stunned that people would yield to political pressure,” McLean said. “Chapters told me they couldn’t assure my safety.”
The Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism released a statement Saturday saying their group was pleased that McLean’s plans had been scuttled.
“Her views about Neil Stonechild’s death are not welcome here,” the organization said. Their formal protest was called off, but some people still went to the last place that was advertised for McLean’s event.
McLean meets people opposed to her book
Shortly after 4 p.m. CST, on the street in front of the Quality Inn, McLean said she met with people who had gathered there. She said about 20 people were there and one person had a sign which said, “This book promotes racism.”
“It doesn’t at all,” McLean said. “I’m really just revealing evidence.”
She said she ended up spending about 30 minutes talking to people and sold or gave away a few copies of her book.
“They were very reasonable,” she said. “The people I met were very open-minded and lovely … I felt perfectly safe out there.”
McLean said she has become something of an advocate for the officers involved and understands how people may perceive that.
“They felt I was defending cops who had done something wrong,” she said. “And I said, ‘You’ve got to read the book’.”
She said she has spent over ten years researching the events that led to the Stonechild Inquiry and examined the work of the inquiry itself.
“I try to show people, ‘Look. We goofed,'” she said about the findings from the inquiry. “The received wisdom on this topic needs to be re-examined.”
McLean said the controversy about her book event has led to some welcome publicity.
“It probably did help, in an interesting way,” she said. “Of course [the book] is going to be protested. It goes against the grain.”
Inquiry should have heard more, author says
McLean said she has pored over extensive records associated with the inquiry and spoken to people who, she believes, should have been called as witnesses. She said their recollections put a different light on the events.
“I believe the people who ran the public inquiry hid material that should have been revealed,” she said.
McLean, who is based in Calgary, has worked at a number of newspapers and periodicals and is currently working on another book that examines another angle to the starlight tours controversy.
- 2 fired officers in Stonechild case won’t get jobs back
She will be in Yorkton on Tuesday, but has not yet found a venue. She is also headed to Winnipeg. She said that while the bookstore Chapters is no longer sponsoring her book signings, they said they will continue to stock her book on the shelves.
The Coalition Against Racism group, also known as SCAR, said McLean’s interpretation of the controversy is an unwelcome attempt to downplay the history of starlight tours.
“She is attempting to retell the story of the starlight tours and racialized policing,” Michelle Stewart, who works with SCAR, said. “Our community rejected that attempt.”