Saskatchewan says it is helping community traumatized by school shooting

Saskatchewan defends La Loche supports

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government says it has been supporting a remote northern community where local leaders say they feel abandoned since a deadly school shooting almost a year ago.

In a 1,200-word email to media Tuesday, the province lists its work with community leaders in La Loche, where a teenage gunman killed four people last January.

Some of the initiatives include a new 14-unit affordable rental housing project, more school counsellors, improvements to adult education and skills training, and the hiring of a mental-health nurse.

The government said it has also provided $480,000 specifically for priority projects at the La Loche Health Centre, including a new X-ray machine.

Government Relations Minister Donna Harpauer says it may take time to see results from all the initiatives.

“That’s a long process and this is not going to be an overnight fix,” Harpauer said Tuesday in an interview with The Canadian Press. “We’re more than willing to continue to work with La Loche and we do understand that it’s going to be a work in progress.”

The principal of the La Loche high school said Monday that there was some help for about a month after the shooting that killed teacher Adam Wood and teacher’s aide Marie Janvier and wounded seven others.

But Greg Hatch said after that, the school was left on its own to make it through the year.

Hatch said students and staff are frustrated and angry. Many still haven’t dealt with the trauma, he said.

“I can’t say what’s in the principal’s mind when he’s saying he feels abandoned. I can only think it is a lot of emotion,” said Harpauer.

The shooter also killed two brothers: Drayden Fontaine, 13, and Dayne Fontaine, 17, at a nearby home before he went to the school.

Deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers from various departments have met with local community leaders over the past year. The email said those talks focused on specific actions in housing, education, health and infrastructure.

They’re scheduled to travel to La Loche again on Jan. 16 to review the progress.

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre has said there has been some provincial help but says there is a long road ahead for the community.

Harpauer says the local leadership has been clear that they want to lead the recovery effort.

“For us to go sit there, is not what they want,” she said. “But they do need to reach out when they have identified specific things and, to my knowledge, they haven’t asked for anything more specifically.”

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union backed up La Loche community leaders, arguing for more social workers and health-care workers.

“If those resources aren’t available and you leave people to their own means, in many cases they just get more and more desperate,” said Bymoen. “Then the solution becomes tougher and probably more expensive for the province as well.”

Bymoen says the government should take a different approach, such as going into schools with the union and telling students about the types of jobs that are needed in the north.

“It’s a powerful tool to … talk to kids and say there’s employment in your own community for social workers, there’s opportunity in your own community for health-care workers,” said Bymoen.

Buckley Belanger, the NDP member for Athabasca, which includes La Loche, said the provincial government has failed to come up with an aggressive plan to help the community heal.

He said the government needs to take action now to ensure that young people in La Loche have better access to job training courses and mental health counselling services.

“I think the people’s patience is wearing thin. After a year there is still not a clear, concise plan as to how the community can be helped to recover from this shooting,” he said.

“A year later people are still traumatized. What they (the government) should not be doing is having a piecemeal approach to this crisis.”

A teenager pleaded guilty in October to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.

A sentencing hearing for the teen, who turned 18 shortly after the shooting, is set for May in La Loche.

The Crown has said it will argue to have him sentenced as an adult.

Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press