02/21/2013 12:06 EST | Updated 04/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Winnipeg man apologizes for false accusation against police officers

WINNIPEG - A young aboriginal man has apologized for falsely accusing two police officers of taking him on a so-called starlight tour.

Winnipeg police and native leaders hope the apology will help improve the sometimes-bitter relationship between officers on the beat and aboriginal residents in the inner city.

"I'm sorry for jeopardizing the reputation of the Winnipeg Police Service. I want to say sorry to the police officers for putting them in that situation," Evan Maud, 22, said Thursday in his apology.

The public show of remorse was part of a restorative justice program that allowed Maud to avoid trial on a public mischief charge.

"I'm also deeply sorry to their families, friends and colleagues for causing them to doubt, mistrust and question the two police officers."

On Dec. 3, 2010, Maud claimed that he had been walking down a street when he was stopped by two officers in a patrol car who accused him of being drunk. He said the officers drove him outside city limits, took his coat and left him alone in freezing weather.

The tale bore striking similarities to stories of starlight tours in other cities.

Starlight tour is the name given to a quick way for officers to handle suspected troublemakers by dropping them off far from home rather than following through with an official arrest.

In 1990, the body of Neil Stonechild was found frozen in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon. A lengthy public inquiry found the 17-year-old had been in police custody right before he died. Two officers were fired, although they denied any involvement and were never convicted of any crime.

Two Saskatoon officers were convicted of forcible confinement after another aboriginal man, Darrell Night, was dropped off on the outskirts in 2000. The temperature was below -20 C, but Night survived.

Maud's story quickly unravelled. Video from Winnipeg Transit showed that he was onboard a bus at the time. The police cruiser's GPS showed the vehicle wasn't anywhere near city limits.

The police members' union accepted Maud's apology.

"I congratulate Evan on his bravery to admit that and to go through this process, because I'm sure it can be very intimidating as a young man," said George Van Macklebergh, vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association.

"It's a benefit to our members ... to the community, to the aboriginal peoples in their communities to see that mistakes are made and we can come together and treat them for what they are."

Maud did not say why he made up the story and he left without taking questions. His uncle, Joseph Maud, would not elaborate other than to say his nephew had been at a birthday party and was under the influence of alcohol.

"It's between him and the Creator. You know, we all have whatever secrets and he acknowledged today that he is sorry."

Tensions between Winnipeg's aboriginal community and the police have flared many times. A particularly low point in relations came after the March 1988 shooting of aboriginal leader J.J. Harper.

Harper was walking home with his brother when he was stopped by an officer who was looking for two native men who had stolen a car. An altercation followed and Harper was shot and killed.

His death helped spark an inquiry into how the justice system treats aboriginals.

Joseph Maud, who is also a band councillor on the Skownan First Nation, said some of the inquiry's recommendations are still works in progress more than two decades later. First Nations continue to see higher rates of incarceration than non-aboriginals.

"Things happen, unfortunately, to a lot of aboriginals in higher proportions."

Bill Fogg, acting superintendent with the Winnipeg Police Service, said the restorative justice program that gave Maud an alternative to a trial can help mend fences

"The relationship with the aboriginal community is not as good as it could be," he said.

"But this (process) is a perfect example of how, on a human level, people can come in and break down some of those systematic differences to make things better."

In the two years since he made the false accusation, Maud has graduated high school and has trained to become a welder.

"I was able to move forward and graduate school. I'm now doing good things for myself."