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Public inquiry into Lachance shooting should clear confusion


Windspeaker Staff







Page 4

The Saskatchewan government has announced that an inquiry into the shooting death of a Native man in Prince Albert by a white supremacist will have a broad mandate.

This can only be seen as a positive step, even if it has taken more than a year for the investigation to get underway.

When Carney Nerland shot 48-year-old Leo Lachance through the door of his gun shop, it left a lot of unanswered questions. Nerland was the Saskatchewan head of the racist Church of Aryan Nations. Lachance was a trapper from the Whitefish Lake Reserve.

Was the shooting a cold-hearted act of a racist who felt free to take pot-shots at a man because he did not value a Native life? Or was it an accident, a case of careless firearm handling?

Questions like this have never been answered because Nerland never went to trial. He pleaded guilty of manslaughter and received a four-year prison sentence. No witnesses to the in incident were ever called to give testimony. The public never had a chance to evaluate evidence against Nerland compared to the sentence he received.

Even the legal process that led to Nerland's conviction left the impression with some people that he got an easy ride from the justice system. Prince Albert police have also said they don't believe Nerland and his organization pose any co-ordinated threat to the community.

The shooting and the subsequent investigation and court process has left people "frustrated at the street level," says Alphonse Bird, a spokesman for the Prince Alberta Tribal council. In a recent interview with Windspeaker, Bird said some people have talked about retaliation for the crime, while others have been left feeling the justice system treats Native people one way and whites another.

It's easy to understand this frustration, considering the lack of public information and the history tendency of the courts to deal harshly with Native offenders.

An inquiry into the Lachance shooting likely won't have much impact on Native concerns about the court system. But with any luck, it will clear up many of the questions surrounding Lachance's tragic death. It will give the people of Prince Albert a chance to learn the facts of the case and understand how the court deals with Carney Nerland.

The key here is to keep the inquiry process in full view of the public. An investigation that works behind closed doors and then issues a report at some point down the road is bound to leave some people with the impression that the government or the courts have something to hide.

And no matter what the inquiry panel finally concludes, there are bound to be some people left unsatisfied. But at least all the relevant information about the case will be out in the open where it belongs.

The Saskatchewan government has acted fairly in calling this inquiry into the shooting of Leo Lachance and has shown itself willing to deal with the concerns of the Native community.

Some might complain that it took more than a year to get the ball rolling. But governments and courts move slowly and deliberately. We should at least be grateful that the death of Leo Lachance is not being allowed to dawdle in bureaucratic limbo for years like those of Helen Betty Osborne or J.J. Harper.