Aside from the glaring tragedy — four lives taken, others left with permanent serious injuries, the wider trauma done to any small place by a school shooting — what’s striking about the La Loche, Sask., case that was Thursday argued at the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal is how hideously normal is the level of dysfunction in the remote Dene community in northwest Saskatchewan, and how bloody scarce the resources to do anything about it.
On Jan. 22, 2016, a young man just two weeks shy of his 18th birthday shot and killed two cousins — one 13, one 17 — in their home while they were all on their lunch break from school, then took his aunt’s truck, returned to the school, where he shot seven others, two of them, teacher Adam Wood and teacher’s assistant Marie Janvier, fatally.
The teen, who can’t be identified because of a mandatory publication ban under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was sentenced last year as an adult, which means he was given life imprisonment with no parole for 10 years.
By comparison, a youth sentence would mean a maximum of six years in custody, followed by a supervision order for another four years.
His lawyer, Aaron Fox, is appealing the sentence, arguing that trial Judge Janet McIvor was overwhelmed by the horror of what happened and “lost sight” of what would actually help the teen and that he did have the requisite “diminished moral blameworthiness” that the young are presumed in law to have.
The young man, now 20, had been identified as needing a lot of help from Grade 1 on and psycho-assessments done in grades 3 and 6 found him hyperactive and well below average.
That last one, which found him at a Grade 3 reading level and Grade 2 in math, this when he was 12, recommended special education and occupational therapy. There’s no evidence anything of the sort happened.
To some degree, he was doomed from the get-go.
His biological mother frequently drank alcohol in large quantities while she was pregnant with him.
This was belatedly confirmed by interviews with family members in the preparation of what’s called a Gladue report, a sort of pre-sentencing report for Aboriginal offenders.
Two doctors, who testified at the trial, later sent a letter to the court confirming their diagnosis that the teenager in fact had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, the term used to describe the range of effects that can occur in someone whose mother drank during pregnancy.
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