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Addressing Racism In Prince Albert: Did Leo Lachance's Death Make An Impact?

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1997      v27 n01 p07  
Racism is an issue in most Saskatchewan communities. However, many people point to Prince Albert as having more racial problems than average. Aboriginal residents of the city can cite numerous examples of intolerance and hatred directed towards them. Of these, none stands out as clearly as that of Leo LaChance.

On January 28, 1991, Carney Nerland shot Leo LaChance in the back as he was leaving Nerland's Prince Albert store. Witnesses stated that LaChance was shot through the door, by accident.

However, the case received public attention when racism was identified as a potential motive for the killing. Nerland had been the Saskatchewan leader of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nation, a white supremacist organization.

LaChance was an Aboriginal trapper from northern Saskatchewan.

Following an investigation, Nerland was charged with manslaughter based on the witnesses' statements. The charge generated a great deal of negative publicity since many people believed that Nerland should have been charged with murder. Public outrage continued when it was learned that Nerland may have been an informant for the RCMP and possibly received preferential treatment.

Nerland pleaded guilty to the charge in April of 1991 and received a four-year sentence. Upon his release, he entered the RCMP protection program. Nerland's current location is unknown.

Based on the public outrage over the charge, a panel was formed to look into the way the case was handled. Former Saskatoon judge Ted Hughes lead the inquiry that began in May 1992. Delia Opekokew and Peter MacKinnon were the two other members of the Hughes Commission.

The three-person panel heard testimony over a ten month time span. In all, 41 witnesses testified at the inquiry and 3,000 pages of

Lawrence Joseph,
Prince Albert
City Councillor
Lawrence Joseph, Prince Albert City Councillor

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Addressing Racism In Prince Albert: Did Leo Lachance's Death Make An Impact?

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1997      v27 n01 p25  
transcripts were collected. From this information, the Hughes Commission compiled a report that was released in November of 1993.

In part, the report stated, "[Prince Albert police] did not recognize when they should have that racism may have been the motivating factor for the actions of Nerland." The report also stated that police acted in good faith but were not diligent enough in pursuing evidence that might have proven that LaChance's shooting was not accidental.

The Hughes Commission made two recommendations in its report. The first was that Prince Albert police have at least one officer fluent in Cree on duty at all times. The second recommendation was that the province improve training for police and prosecutors to deal with racism.

Now, six years after the shooting of Leo LaChance, Prince Albert has begun to make inroads into improving race relations with its Aboriginal population. The Prince Albert police force has hired six Aboriginal officers and has provided cross-cultural training for its new officers.

"But, have we really improved since the Hughes Commission?" asks Prince Albert City Councillor Lawrence Joseph. "I believe we've done a lot," says Joseph, currently in his third elected term. But, he goes on to say that there is "still an element of hatred out there that should not be tolerated in any community".

Recently, two of Saskatchewan's leading religious leaders joined Joseph. Anthony Burton, the Anglican Bishop of Saskatchewan and Blaise Morand, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Prince Albert issued statements earlier this year calling for racial harmony in Prince Albert.

"While we recognize that Prince Albert's record of racial justice is certainly no worse than that of many large western communities, our problems are pro- found and we call upon the community to raise this issue to the top of the political agenda," said Morand.

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Addressing Racism In Prince Albert: Did Leo Lachance's Death Make An Impact?

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1997      v27 n01 p26  
The bishops recommended that the Prince Albert City Council: Joseph suggests that Prince Albert take these recommendations as constructive criticism. He gives City Council credit for trying hard to address race relations, citing the international WOLF award they recently received. He also praises the work that the Prince Albert race relations committee has done in addressing problems from other cultures.

But, Joseph is concerned that these attempts will fail Aboriginal people until they are consulted on an on-going basis. With an estimated 40 per cent of the 35,000 people in Prince Albert being aboriginal "It's important that our voice is heard," he says.

And, the issue is becoming more timely. Current trends indicate that Saskatchewan's Aboriginal populations are growing quickly. Predictions are that in the near future, Aboriginal youth will no longer be the minority in this province. When that time comes, Joseph maintains that Aboriginal youth will take their rightful place in society. "It's time to turn the alarm on and say, 'Wake up,"' says Joseph. He suggests that racial problems will continue to exist until the current majority is better educated on race relations and social issues."[Prince Albert] is a beautiful place to be," says Joseph. "We can only make it better."