Why the judge felt the La Loche, Sask. school shooter needs to be sentenced as an adult

The La Loche school shooter planned his rampage to a "very sophisticated" degree, despite some impairments, the judge said.

'The planning, the deliberation, the resolve all had an adult-like quality': Judge Janet McIvor

The planning of the La Loche school shooter was "very sophisticated" despite his low IQ and being on the spectrum for FASD, the judge said. For those reasons and others, Janet McIvor ruled the shooter should face an adult sentence. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The La Loche, Sask. school shooter planned his rampage to a "very sophisticated" degree, despite having a lower IQ and being on the spectrum for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), the judge in the case has ruled.

For that and other reasons outlined by Judge Janet McIvor, the shooter will be sentenced as an adult. 

McIvor spoke for nearly an hour and a half Friday in La Loche provincial court about why the shooter should not be sentenced as a youth.

To the full and cramped courtroom of more than 30 people — which erupted into applause at the end of her decision — McIvor described how the village changed for the worse after the January 2016 shootings.

"The school, in many respects, has never been the same," she said.

The crimes left four people dead. They included Adam Wood, 35, and Marie Janvier, 21, a teacher and teacher's assistant respectively, as well as teenagers Drayden and Dayne Fontaine, who were shot inside their home before the school attack. Another seven people were injured at the school.

The shooter cannot be named because of a publication ban. He was 17 at the time of the shootings. In October 2016, he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder in October 2016 in provincial court in Meadow Lake.

McIvor began her remarks by cataloguing the tragedy's other lingering effects on La Loche, a town about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. She said they include an increase in youth suicides and suicide attempts and people moving out of the already-small community of around 2,300 people because it's "too stressful or hurtful to stay."

"Marriages have crumbled from the stresses of survivor's guilt and or having a partner not be able to understand the stress, the pain and quite frankly for some the fear of still being alive," said McIvor.

"Friendships have been altered or lost for the very same reasons. Professional careers have ended due to the fear of being in a classroom and suddenly a shooter perhaps being at the door."

'Planning, resolve, forethought'

McIvor's decision about the nature of the shooter's sentence was generally broken up into two halves. Each described a bar the Crown prosecutor had to meet to prove an adult sentence was warranted.

The Crown first had to prove the shooter had "diminished moral blameworthiness" for his crimes.

Earlier in the months-long, on-again, off-again sentencing process, a psychiatrist testifying for the defence said the young man didn't have the "moral fibre" that would prevent others from carrying out such a horrific attack.

But McIvor struck back at that notion, pointing out that the shooter continued with his rampage after he "ambushed and murdered" the Fontaine brothers in their home.

The shooter, wearing a bulletproof vest, was escorted under armed guard to an RCMP van after the Friday court hearing. (Don Somers/CBC)

The defence had also argued the shooter suffers from a host of mental disorders, including FASD, and didn't fully understand what he was doing that day.

But McIvor said the attacks were still "calculated" in spite of those circumstances.

"This young person has demonstrated planning, resolve, forethought," including doing internet research on the damage different types of guns would do to the human body, she said.

"He spared a teacher and three of his friends [at the school]," McIvor continued. "He warned them off. The planning, the deliberation, the resolve all had an adult-like quality."

The second test

The second test laid out by McIvor was whether a youth sentence (six years in custody, then four years being supervised outside of jail) would be enough given the severity of the crimes.

McIvor said Saskatoon's Kilburn Hall Youth Centre, where the young man has been in custody, can't offer him the "intensive" rehab treatment he needs, based on a report commissioned by the court.

The provincial courthouse in La Loche. (Charles Hamilton/CBC)

She also noted a split in the shooter's behaviour in court, saying how he became "visibly upset" when the subject of the Fontaine brothers came up but appeared "unaffected" while listening to statements about the effects his actions had on the people inside the school.  

"I was able to observe that," McIvor said.

While she mentioned some signs of promise — the shooter has advanced from a Grade 4 to a Grade 9 reading level while at Kilburn, whereas he struggled at school in La Loche due to a lack of supports — McIvor ultimately ruled that "a youth sentence would not hold him accountable."

Court process not done yet

The decision still does not end what McIvor herself described as a "long and difficult" sentencing process. At one point, the process was delayed after the Ministry of Justice decided to appoint the original Crown prosecutor to a new post.

The shooter, who recently marked his 20th birthday, will be back in court in Meadow Lake on March 16, when lawyers will make their arguments about the actual sentence.

It's not known if McIvor will make her final ruling then.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

with files from Charles Hamilton