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Canada: School shooting sheds light on issues that go beyond the classroom

published 25 January 2016 updated 28 January 2016

The lives lost to gunfire in La Loche, Saskatchewan represent not only a tragedy to a community, but reinforce the need of quality schools and teachers in places facing social challenges.

Friday’s shooting that claimed the lives of four people and injured seven others has exposed the deep underlying social issues that have long plagued the northern Saskatchewan town.

An accused 17-year-old shooter, scheduled to appear in court Monday, January 25, has been charged with the murders of two teenagers in their home, and two teachers at the La Loche Community School.

Victim Adam Wood, 35, from Ontario, began teaching at the school last September, while teacher’s aide, Marie Janvier, 21, was in the first year of her education career.

“Our hearts go to each family touched by the shootings and to the entire community of La Loche,” said Canadian Teachers’ Federation President Heather Smith. “As an organisation, the CTF represents teachers who work and build relationships with youth on a daily basis. We invite government leaders and national/community organisations to work with us to prevent future tragedies so that schools are safe hubs for all. ”

For the town of 2,600, home to a predominantly aboriginal population, like many other communities in the north, has struggled to get the government attention it needs to address social issues. The school, however, has long stood as a beacon of hope. Now there is talk of tearing it down in an attempt to start over. But that alone will not solve the town’s troubles, especially when stark resources are needed in other areas, such as employment, substance abuse and suicide prevention programmes.

“The deaths of Wood and Janvier make the shooting even harder to accept, as they were perhaps best suited to understand the challenges of both their students and their community,” said Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We would like to extend our condolences to all of the families affected, and to the entire community of La Loche during this dark time.”

Previous reports about the town also looked at a loss of cultural identity among First Nations residents, who are predominantly Dene. Social workers in La Loche point to a major decline in the Dene language. Once spoken by all children, now very few are even aware of it. This decline in cultural heritage, combined with chronic economic and social ills, has left La Loche and its people in a desperate state.

Provincial and federal authorities were quick to pledge commitments to address the problems, and maybe this time they will follow through. The economic challenges in La Loche can be traced all the way back to the decline of the fur trade. With a median income of $17,320 CDN, nearly $12,000 less than the provincial average, a community that was previously known by very few hopes that from tragedy may arrive the long-awaited lifeline.