Ottawa to fund programs, mental health services at La Loche high school: Trudeau

LA LOCHE, Sask. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited a remote northern Saskatchewan community Wednesday to announce $2.2 million to help people heal from a deadly school shooting.

It has been three years since the tragedy in La Loche, 700 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, but Trudeau said it was important to take time to work with the community and the school to determine what they needed.

“There were immediate flowings of funds after the tragedy, but in terms of the right investments to build a resilient community … we needed to make sure we were getting it right,” he said.

The money is to be spent at Dene High School over five years on cultural and language-based programs, on-the-land activities and mental-health services for students.

Trudeau, Saskatchewan’s only Liberal MP Ralph Goodale and Premier Scott Moe first met with students and helped serve them breakfast before a bell signalled the start of classes for the day.

The prime minister later told about 100 people in the school gymnasium that the government needs to empower young people and continue investing in Indigenous communities. “We know that there’s always more to do.”

Moe announced provincial cash to build new housing for teachers and health-care staff. The province is to work with a construction company in La Loche on the $3-million project.

“We know much healing has taken place over the last three years and we know this is just the beginning of our journey,” said Moe. “We are hopeful that this additional housing can assist the ongoing recruitment effort in La Loche.”

The government visit comes one day after the third anniversary of the shootings that left four people dead.

A student who was weeks away from his 18th birthday first shot teenage brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine at a home before gunning down teacher’s aide Marie Janvier and teacher Adam Wood at the school.

Seven others were injured in the building as people ran to hide in classrooms and huddled under desks.

The shooter pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and attempted murder and was sentenced last year as an adult to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. Because he is appealing his sentence, he can’t be named.

Renovations were made to the school and a grand reopening was held last week to mark the completion of construction on the front entrance, washrooms and a wellness area.

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said the new government funding is “a good leap forward.”

“It’s going to enable us to put some pieces together and formalize a better plan for our community and a healing journey. It’s integral in our plan and so I’m very happy.”

He added that his mother was at the announcement and briefly held Trudeau’s hand as he was leaving. She told the prime minister that she was disappointed he hadn’t taken time to take questions from residents, said St. Pierre.

The visit is Trudeau’s seventh in Saskatchewan in the last year. Experts suggest it’s part of a political strategy to show he has not given up on provinces where he may not be popular.

Joe Garcea, a political studies professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said Trudeau’s La Loche stop also signals that he cares about northern and Indigenous issues.

Georgina Jolibois, the NDP MP for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, said the Trudeau government should be doing more for La Loche.

She noted that two years ago the community requested $15 million from Ottawa and the province for community programs, mental health counselling, and renovations to the school.

“The announcement is far short of what the community is asking for,” she said in a release. “It’s a bit insulting for the Prime Minister to say his government is listening when the difference between what they’re giving and what’s been asked for is so large.”

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