LA LOCHE: Residents of the remote Canadian town of La Loche, having softened frozen cemetery ground with bonfires, prepared to bury their loved ones as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived on Friday at the site of Canada’s worst mass shooting in a decade.
Trudeau’s visit comes a week after a shooter killed four people and wounded seven at a home and high school and a day before funerals were to begin in the isolated aboriginal Saskatchewan town.
“I would like to extend my most heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims, and I would like to wish a rapid recovery to all those injured,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Together, as a country, we join in mourning with the people of La Loche.”
Trudeau, elected in October, has pledged to repair relations with Canada’s 1.4 million aboriginals, who make up 5 percent of the population but are disproportionately victims of violent crime, addiction and incarceration. Trudeau’s visit is expected to focus on both the immediate and longer-term needs.
A 17-year-old boy has been charged in the shootings. Local media said the teen had been taunted about his large ears, and during the shooting spree spared students who had been kind to him.
Two brothers and two teachers were killed in the shooting.
In a note on the Dene high school’s Facebook page, staff wrote they missed the students as the school remained closed.
“We are supporting each other so we can help support you. We will be back. We will rebuild. We will get better together,” the post read.
La Loche is not an aboriginal reserve but one is nearby. Its population of 2,600 is about 90 percent Metis and Dene, and the Dene language is widely spoken in addition to English.
The shooting has sparked a national debate about how to improve life in communities like La Loche, where the legacy of colonization and an abusive residential school system have fuelled high rates of suicide, addiction, and unemployment, despite nearby oil and resource exploration projects.
“It’s a big tragic situation right now and it takes this kind of a thing to open our eyes,” said Gilbert Benjamin, a relative of one of the shooting victims who travelled from a nearby aboriginal reservation to support the community.
“We’ve been crying for so many years. We are struggling, we need help and nobody seems to look at it.”