Saskatoon

Sask. Justice Ministry admits error in pulling prosecutor off La Loche shooter case

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice is blaming “an administrative error” for the delay in the sentencing hearing for the teen behind the La Loche shootings.

Crown attorney Lloyd Stang was made a judge before he could complete sentencing arguments in multiple shooting

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre says his community wants this case resolved. (CBC News)

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice is blaming "an administrative error" for a delay in the sentencing hearing for the teen responsible for the La Loche school shootings.

The teen, who cannot be named because of his age, has pleaded guilty to shooting and killing four people and wounding seven others in January 2016.

On Friday, the final arguments for the sentencing were expected to take place in Meadow Lake, 290 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Instead, the process was adjourned after it was announced that the Crown prosecutor on the case, Lloyd Stang, had been appointed as a provincial court judge in Melfort on Thursday.

Timing 'could have been better'

Stang had to step away from the case as a result of the appointment, and a new timeline for the rest of the proceeding will be set Sept. 11.

Crown prosecutor Lloyd Stang stepped away from the sentencing hearing after he was appointed as a judge. (CBC)

A new Crown prosecutor has to be brought up to speed on the case.

"The timing of this appointment could have been better," a spokesperson for the ministry said Friday afternoon via email.

"Unfortunately an administrative error was made and Judge Stang was appointed before the conclusion of the sentencing hearing."

Speaking in the Meadow Lake provincial courthouse on Friday, Judge Janet McIvor said the announcement about Stang's appointment caught everyone by surprise.

"On behalf of the court I feel I must apologize," said McIvor. "This has been an exceptional circumstance."

4 killed, 7 wounded

On Jan. 22, 2016, the teenager in question stalked through a school in La Loche firing a shotgun. He killed teacher Adam Wood, 35, and teaching assistant Marie Janvier, 21.

He wounded seven others before eventually surrendering to police.

Earlier in the day, he shot and killed teenage brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine at a home in the village.

The sentencing hearing has been stretched out over several weeks throughout the summer, beginning in May, continuing in June and then resuming briefly last Friday, until newly revealed evidence unexpectedly cut proceedings short.

A central question expected at the sentencing hearing was the mental state of the teen at the time of the crimes. On Friday, the judge was expected to hear the findings of the Gladue report — which outlines factors in an Indigenous offender's life that may have contributed to their criminal history.
Defence lawyer Aaron Fox says the teen shooter has shown remorse for his actions and a youth facility would be the best place for him to get treatment. (CBC)

Two expert witnesses previously called by defence attorney Aaron Fox — psychiatrist Dr. Mansfield Mela and psychologist Dr. Monty Nelson — have signed a letter saying that evidence contained in that Gladue report supports their assertion the teen suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Questions over FASD

Stang had wanted to cross-examine those experts on Friday morning, prior to closing arguments. 

The Crown has argued for an adult sentence in the case, saying the seriousness of the crime and the fact the killer was only a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday when he carried out the shootings mean an adult sentence is appropriate. 

The defence maintains the teen should be sentenced as a youth, arguing he has shown remorse for his actions and that a youth facility would be the best place for him to get treatment.

Two of the surviving adult victims have said they want the teen sentenced as an adult.

The maximum youth sentence for first-degree murder is 10 years in custody. A youth sentenced as an adult receives an automatic life sentence with no parole possible for 10 years.

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre expressed his concern about the latest delay, saying it makes it more difficult for his community to move on from the tragedy.

Drawn-out process

"As we get further into the fall, and towards Christmas, then we're back in January," said St. Pierre. "So we're that much closer to that anniversary [of the killings], and the anxieties start percolating again."

St. Pierre said the process has been long and drawn out.

"If we want to move on, we've got to get to that point," he said. "We're not at that point yet, and it's going to be that much longer."

Prosecutor Pouria Tabrizi-Reardigan will be taking over the file from Stang and said he wants to conclude the file as soon as possible.

The justice ministry said the hearing will continue to have appropriate Crown resources dedicated to it.

"We will ensure the case continues to be prosecuted as intended," the spokesperson said.

"New processes have been implemented to ensure that this type of error never occurs again."

About the Author

Charles Hamilton is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

with files from Jacob Zehr

now