JUSTICE

‘Give me a medal’

Natives press for an inquiry into a killing

D’ARCY JENISH July 29 1991
JUSTICE

‘Give me a medal’

Natives press for an inquiry into a killing

D’ARCY JENISH July 29 1991

‘Give me a medal’

JUSTICE

Natives press for an inquiry into a killing

Carney Nerland had a defiant expression on his face—and a shotgun in his hands. He and two other members of the Church of Jesus Christ ChristianAryan Nations, a Hayden Lake, Idaho-based white-supremacist organization, stood behind a fence and a crude hand-painted sign that read “KKK white power! 1990.” Nerland, a gun-shop owner from Prince Albert,

Sask., and his fellow white supremacists were taunting reporters and a handful of protesters who attended an Aryan Nations rally in September near Provost, Alta.,

260 km southeast of Edmonton. Seven months later, on April 12, Nerland, 26, stood before a Court of Queen’s Bench justice in Prince Albert. Nerland pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the fatal Jan. 28 shooting in the same city of Leo LaChance, a 48year-old Indian trapper, and received a four-year prison sentence. The sentence outraged Saskatchewan native leaders, with many claiming that Nerland’s racist beliefs led to LaChance’s death. _

Now, native organizations ~ are pressing Ottawa and pro^ vincial justice officials for an o independent inquiry into the $ case.

According to representatives of native organizations, the LaChance killing raises troubling issues about the administration of justice in Saskatchewan, particularly in cases involving natives. They maintain that an independent inquiry is needed to determine why police charged Nerland with manslaughter rather than murder. And they contend that Nerland should have received a longer sentence because of his open espousal of racist beliefs. Native leaders have also complained that federal Justice Minister Kim Campbell ignored their requests for an inquiry. As well, they add that an Indian Justice Review, which Premier Grant Devine’s Conservative government announced on June 5 to examine how the criminal justice system handles cases involving natives, will not resolve the issues surrounding the LaChance case. Said Prince Albert Tribal Council Chief Allen Felix: “We believe the LaChance murder was based on racism. There

must be an inquiry into the way it was dealt with in court.”

Saskatchewan native leaders claim that a number of mysteries about the case remain because Nerland, who is currently serving his sentence in an undisclosed prison, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge and did not testify in court. At the same time, Crown

prosecutor John Field did not ask two men who witnessed the shooting in Nerland’s Northern Gun and Pawn Shop to testify. Critics say that the court heard only the bare facts as Field presented them.

According to Field’s version, LaChance entered Nerland’s store at about 6:15 p.m. and asked two customers if they would be interested in buying a .303-calibre rifle. Then, Nerland, who had been present during the conversation, picked up a rifle and, without explanation, fired two shots into the floor of his store. LaChance then left the store, at which point Nerland fired a third shot at the door. Moments later, a man who was passing the store entered the shop, reported that there was an injured man in the street and asked Nerland if he could use his telephone to call an ambulance. Nerland refused, and the man left.

LaChance, who had been hit in the left arm and upper chest by the bullet, was taken to hospital in Prince Albert and then transferred to Saskatoon for treatment. He died about eight hours later. Two days later, RCMP officers arrested Nerland 260 km northeast of Calgary. In court, Field said that after being refused bail, Nerland told a police officer: “If I am convicted of shooting an Indian, they should give me a medal.” According to Field, the two witnesses to the shooting, Russell Yungwirth and Gar Brownbridge, who both are employed by the Saskatchewan department of justice’s corrections division in Prince Albert, waited almost 24 hours and consulted lawyers before going to the police.

Shortly after Justice William Gerein sentenced Nerland to the four-year term, the Prince Albert Daily Herald invited readers to express their opinions on the sentence. Managing editor Wayne Roznowsky said that within

four hours, 185 local residents had called, and all but three said that they thought the sentence was too lenient. For his part, Chief Felix travelled to Ottawa in early May and appealed to Campbell for an independent inquiry. Prince Albert Mayor Gordon Kirkby also wrote to Campbell urging her to set up an inquiry. In Ottawa, Campbell’s press secretary, Owen Lippert, said that the administration of justice is a provincial jurisdiction and that the federal minister has no authority to order an inquiry. But Saskatchewan’s native leaders, who clearly remain deeply troubled by the case, said that they will continue to press for an inquiry into the unsolved mysteries surrounding the death of Leo LaChance.

CONNIE SAMPSON

D’ARCY JENISH with CONNIE SAMPSON in Prince Albert