LaChance shooting remembered in Prince Albert
Twenty years after the fatal shooting of aboriginal trapper Leo LaChance, people in Prince Albert were reflecting on that dark moment in the city's history.
LaChance died after being shot Jan. 28, 1991, outside a pawn shop owned by Carney Nerland, a man it was later learned was a white supremacist.
Nerland had fired an assault rifle at the floor that struck LaChance in the back.
The death caused outrage in the city's aboriginal community, not only for the crime itself, but about the way officials handed the case. Some believed Nerland should have been charged with murder, not manslaughter.
Nerland pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison.
An public inquiry held into the case examined whether racism was a factor in the death. The inquiry heard about Nerland's involvement with white supremacist groups.
Current deputy chief of police, Troy Cooper, was one of the first officers at the scene of the shooting. He described it as a frightening and overwhelming case for a young officer to be involved in.
"It was one of those historic events," Cooper said. "That was very unfortunate, but it paved the way for a lot of good work that's gone on since then."
Delia Opekakew, who sat on the judicial inquiry looking into the death, said it allowed people to come to grips with what happened.
"It allows for people to examine their own attitudes and for native people to express the hurt that they may have suffered because of those attitudes," she said.
The inquiry report recommended to the Prince Albert police service that there should be an officer fluent in Cree on duty at all times. The 1993 report also recommended more cross-cultural training of police and prosecutors.
Cooper says race relations have improved immensely since the LaChance shooting, adding that there are many more aboriginal police officers these days than in 1991.
"There've been events over the last 20 years that sort of made us feel some of that racial tension. This was one of those events," he said.
"I know that currently, we don't have that feeling here. There's no tension, there's no feeling that there's some tension between First Nations groups and the police."