LA LOCHE, Sask. – An imminent sentencing decision for a young man who pleaded guilty to fatal shootings at a school and a home is stirring anxiety in the remote northern Saskatchewan community where they occurred.
A ruling by Judge Janet McIvor on whether the shooter will be sentenced as a youth or an adult is to come down in La Loche on Friday.
He was just shy of his 18th birthday when the shootings occurred and cannot be identified under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Two years ago, the teenager killed two brothers in their home and then shot up the La Loche high school. A teacher and a teacher’s aide were killed and seven people were injured.
La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said there’s apprehension among some residents.
“It’s a day that we knew was coming and it’s finally upon us,” St. Pierre said in an interview this week with The Canadian Press. “It’s both good and bad, I guess. At least we’ll have a decision and maybe it will help with moving forward.
“What the decision will be will be another thing.”
McIvor’s decision in La Loche is also to be broadcast using a video-conferencing link to the Meadow Lake, Sask., courthouse where the sentencing hearing was held.
The prosecution argued at the hearing that the shooter should be sentenced as an adult after pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.
His defence lawyer, Aaron Fox, is seeking a youth sentence because his client suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and doesn’t have a criminal record.
A youth sentence carries a maximum term of six years in custody and four years of supervision. As an adult, the shooter faces an automatic life sentence, but would get credit for time already spent in custody, meaning he could be eligible for parole after 10 years.
Fox said this week that he expects the judge to provide her decision on youth versus adult as well as the actual sentence.
“He knows he’s facing a lengthy period of incarceration no matter what the decision is, and he’s prepared for that and accepts that,” said Fox.
His client has been getting some help during his time in custody, he said.
“By that, I mean formal help and support,” Fox said. “He certainly had the love of his family in his life and still does, but some of the formal help and assistance that it would have been good if he had before, he’s getting now.”
No one from the Crown prosecutor’s office could be reached for comment.
Some victims who spoke at the Meadow Lake hearing told the judge that the teen should be dealt with as an adult because of the severity of his crimes.
The mayor of La Loche said he, too, would like to see an adult sentence.
“It’s adult choices, adult consequences. That’s what I was brought up with,” said St. Pierre. “I don’t think the message would be good if we allow something of that nature to continue.
“Look what happened in Florida. There are true consequences.”
— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton