Five years later, La Loche still healing from tragic school shooting

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Five years later, La Loche still healing from tragic school shooting
WATCH: The toll of a mass shooting at a high school in northern Saskatchewan five years ago has weighed on people in La Loche ever since – Jan 22, 2021

The memories come back every year for Georgina Jolibois.

Jolibois had returned to La Loche, Sask., on that fateful day five years ago when a then 17-year-old boy shot and killed four people and injured seven others

“It was a horrific time,” said Jolibois, who was the MP for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River at the time of the shooting and is currently the mayor of the Dene community 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

“What I have noticed at every anniversary, it brings back a period for us where we are experiencing some memories and remembering some of the things that we have gone through.

“The healing is ongoing.”

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The shootings started at a home on Jan. 22, 2016, where the gunman killed his cousins, Dayne and Drayden Fontaine. A judge later heard he considered them his brothers.

He then drove to Dene High School, where he killed teacher Adam Wood and teacher’s aide Marie Janvier.

Seven other people were injured in the shooting.

Community healing

The healing process has been a long journey for the community.

Last year, the federal government pledged $2.2 million over five years, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying the funding would go toward supporting culture and language programs, outdoor learning opportunities and mental health services.

Click to play video: 'Steps made by feds toward reconciliation in La Loche, Sask: mayor'
Steps made by feds toward reconciliation in La Loche, Sask: mayor

Jolibois says continued mental health support is needed, to deal with not only the tragic shooting, but also the pandemic.

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“I want to emphasize the critical support required in mental health is ongoing and it should continue,” she said.

“The pandemic is something else that we still have to deal with and then these memories that we have to go through, so the support required is extensive and that’s ongoing. And we will continue to ask not only the provincial government, but the federal government to ensure that they continue to provide to give us support that we need in the community.”

The Saskatchewan government says it is committed to providing continuing support for La Loche.

“This is done through ongoing investments in mental health and overall health initiatives… and providing school staff and students with the supports they need to deal with difficult topics,” said Everett Hindley, the minister of mental health and addictions, seniors and rural and remote health.

The province is filling eight new positions in the community, including a mental health therapist, a community mental health nurse and a child and youth mental health therapist.

“Despite significant investments to provide services to the community, we recognize that recruitment and retention remains a challenge,” states a background document provided by the Saskatchewan government.

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“We are working collaboratively with our officials from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, local northern health officers and Indigenous Services Canada to address these concerns.”

While Jolibois is sympathetic to current staffing issues, she said it is critical that health authorities in the province provide the support that the community needs.

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“I feel that the kind of support required is not there this time around from the health region, and it should be,” she said.

“Yes, I understand that they’re experiencing a tremendous amount of work right now because of the pandemic, but they have to understand that the communities are dealing with mental health issues as well as addictions and it’s critical for Saskatchewan health authorities in the province to support that.”

Click to play video: 'La Loche still needs help healing, says Mayor Georgina Jolibois'
La Loche still needs help healing, says Mayor Georgina Jolibois

A survivor speaks

One of the survivors of the shooting says more support is needed for the victims.

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Among her injuries, Charlene Klyne lost most of her vision after the shooting. It has deteriorated over the years.

“I have gotten better in some ways and worse in others,” Klyne said in an interview with Global News.

“The good stuff is (the shooting) brought us all together.”

Surgery was scheduled for Klyne that could possibly have restored some of her vision, but it has been delayed due to the pandemic.

Klyne was outspoken after the shooting when she said she wasn’t receiving proper supports and benefits from the province.

A report from the province’s ombudsman in 2018 found Klyne was being provided proper benefits and support under applicable legislation.

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What lies ahead is worrisome for Klyne.

“I’m worried about the financial end, too — (they) only pay me till I’m 65,” she said.

The shooting has also had an impact on Klyne in other ways.

“I don’t hear from anybody that was directly involved in the school shooting. Occasionally, they’ll come to town and bring us fresh blueberries and that’s a treat,” Klyne said.

Compounding Klyne’s injuries from the shooting is a fall she took in April 2020 that left her with a concussion and requiring seven stitches in her head.

Now, she says she gets migraines, has scattered thoughts and needs a cane to walk.

Transforming the community

The school in La Loche has undergone extensive renovations since the shooting.

The Saskatchewan government provided $4.6 million for improvements to the front entrance, staff room, the junior science room and the student lounge.

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The province is also spending $3 million to build housing for teachers and health-care staff in the community, with 12 housing units completed in September 2020.

“The government of Saskatchewan also recently announced an investment of $645,376 to Methy Single Parent Housing Phase V in La Loche to provide six affordable housing units to single-parent families,” according to a background document.

“Since the announcement, the project has been expanded to include eight units, which are currently under construction.”

The Saskatchewan government said technology and internet access remain challenges.

“We will continue to work with school divisions and SaskTel to encourage innovative technology programs, supports for families and to improve access throughout the province,” the province said.

“Our government has also invested $2.75 million to northern communities, including La Loche, to expand the Remote Presence Technology program which allows residents to receive virtual care closer to home.”

That is an important step for Jolibois.

“The kind of services that we can access in counselling is very limited,” she said.

“Many interactions now are done through (applications) such as Zoom … and not everyone has access to the internet — many do not even have a phone. And so to reach out for the help is really critical.”

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Remembering the victims

Jolibois said the community will remember the victims on Friday, starting with a mass service.

It will be followed by a meal for 500 people, handed out to them to take home.

“And then the gospel evening. The gospel evening will consist of three local gospel singers. They will play at the radio station, but it will be livestreamed as well,” she said.

A permanent monument is also being planned.

“The community is ready to proceed… on making sure that we have a proper memorial place for the community,” Jolibois said.

Hindley said La Loche and the province suffered an unfathomable tragedy on Jan. 22, 2016, and pledged continuing support to the community.

“On the anniversary of the La Loche Dene High School shooting, we solemnly remember the four lives lost that tragic day, and lift up their families, friends and neighbours,” Hindley said.

“It is the enduring commitment of the government of Saskatchewan to ensure that the entire La Loche community continues to be supported, particularly through these challenging times as we work together to manage the pandemic.”

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Click to play video: 'Georgina Jolibois thankful for the support La Loche, Sask. has received'
Georgina Jolibois thankful for the support La Loche, Sask. has received

The shooter

Randan Fontaine, now 22, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and attempted murder.

He was sentenced as an adult in May 2018 with no chance of parole for 10 years.

In a 2-1 ruling in October 2019, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rejected an appeal of the adult sentence and in April 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada said it would not hear an appeal.

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