First there was shock, with news of a deadly school shooting – not in the United States, but right here in Canada.
There was horror as the dimensions of the attack became clear: two people slain inside La Loche Community School in northern Saskatchewan; seven more shot and wounded; and two teenagers killed in a nearby home.
And then came anguish — sorrow for an already-burdened town torn by fresh heartbreak, and the inevitable question: “Why?”
It’s impossible to find a full answer. A 17-year-old suspect surrendered at the school but can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Some media accounts indicate the shooter had been subjected to teasing, especially taunts about his appearance.
How that trauma worked upon him, and what else propelled this troubled young man into an eruption of violence, may eventually emerge in court.
But this much is already certain: Marie Janvier, 21, a bright, vibrant teaching assistant who reportedly loved her job, is gone forever. So is Adam Wood, 35, a “kind and giving person” who came to the school in September to start a teaching career. Also lost are Dayne Fontaine, 17, and his bother Drayden, 13 — two young lives snuffed out when they had barely begun.
One other thing is painfully clear: the predominantly Dene residents of La Loche and the surrounding area have long struggled in the grip of isolation, neglect and a crippling lack of services.
Mental health programs and treatments are particularly lacking, despite a suicide rate triple that of Saskatchewan as a whole. As in many northern communities, drug and alcohol abuse is a serious concern, along with high crime rates. Young people lack employment, emotional support, social structures and — above all — hope.
There are glimmers of progress. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is committed to creating a new, nation-to-nation relationship with Canada’s aboriginal people. The Liberal government is launching a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. And a landmark ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is expected Tuesday on whether federal funding for child welfare discriminates against aboriginal kids. Reform is essential.
Even as we mourn lives lost in the carnage in La Loche it’s essential to recognize the urgent need for change, not just there but in hard-pressed aboriginal communities across Canada.