A survivor of the 2016 La Loche school shooting is voicing frustration over media being locked out of a courthouse in the community for the sentencing of her attacker.
Substitute teacher Charlene Klyne was left blind after being shot at the Dene High School in La Loche on Jan. 22, 2016.
Klyne now lives in Saskatoon to attend doctor’s appointments, and chose not to make the six-hour drive north to hear whether the now-20-year-old shooter would be sentenced as a youth or an adult.
“I didn’t want to have people coming up to me and talking … because I can’t see who it is,” she said.
Klyne planned to follow the proceedings through the live-tweets of reporters on the scene, but was upset when she found out media was barred from the beginning of the hearing.
“I was like, ‘what the heck’s going on?'” she told 650 CKOM Monday. “I didn’t know we lived in that kind of country … I thought we lived where the media had access.”
Reporters arrived early in La Loche for the hearing Friday, but were told they couldn’t enter until family members of victims were seated in the 34-seat courtroom.
Eventually, RCMP and deputy sheriffs told media the room was full, and denied access to the provincial building’s lobby.
Reporters were asked to leave the building as the shooter was brought in, and the doors were locked.
The media present weren’t informed when the hearing began, only finding out through a Meadow Lake radio DJ who rushed to a video-linked courtroom there to watch the sentencing.
Meadow Lake is around 260 kilometres south of La Loche.
Klyne said she felt anxious as reporters said they didn’t know what was happening at the hearing.
“It was like almost reliving everything because it just got you all tensed up and upset,” she said. “Why are we being kept out of everything?”
It wasn’t until more than hour later that a single reporter was allowed in to relay information to all media agencies. They were allowed in 20 minutes after a family member chose to leave.
A few minutes after the reporter entered the room, Justice Janet McIvor announced she will sentence the shooter as an adult — carrying a mandatory life sentence with parole eligibility after 10 years.
A statement from the Saskatchewan ministry of justice on Friday indicated it was the judge’s discretion to hold the hearing in the small La Loche courtroom.
“The capacity of the room did, unfortunately, even limit participation from some family members,” the statement read.
The ministry noted the Meadow Lake video feed, indicating it had been set up for overflow.
“However, we understand the desire of family, community members and the media to be in the La Loche courtroom during the decision,” it read.
A statement released Friday evening from Saskatchewan Courts said McIvor didn’t order the doors to be locked, adding the judge was “dismayed” to learn of the situation after her decision was read.
“It is the judge’s understanding that these decisions were made by deputy sheriffs and the RCMP,” it said.
RCMP didn’t ‘lock any doors’
RCMP also released a statement saying they were in charge of security at the courthouse, but were not responsible for the doors being locked.
According to RCMP the venue chosen for the court proceedings had limited space inside, and to ensure public safety members were unable to allow additional people access to the main lobby area.
“At no time did RCMP members present lock any doors at the courthouse,” the statement read.
‘It’s been a tough road’
Klyne said Monday she was thankful a single reporter was able to relay the adult sentence decision.
“It was the right (sentencing) decision, I just wish it could have been made sooner,” she said.
The survivor added she’s disappointed the court proceedings weren’t completely closed on Friday, as the judge set another hearing for March 16 in Meadow Lake to sort out details of the sentencing.
“It was over two years to get to this point, and we still have to wait more?” she said. “It’s a little stressful.”
Klyne also discussed her own family’s recovery from the shooting.
She said neither her nor her husband, who was a vice principal at the school when the shooting happened, have been able to work.
Klyne added she has been dealing with intense neck and back pain, while only being able to see shadows as her corneas deteriorate.
“It’s like watching a horror movie,” she said. “You see things move, but you don’t see them.”
She noted her husband has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath, and has trouble being in public places.
“He’ll see someone with a guitar case and wonder if they have a gun,” she said. “It’s been a tough road.”
She’s still experiencing difficulty in receiving services, including being denied a guide dog.
“It’s like we’re being swept under the rug to go away,” she said.
Klyne is working with the provincial ombudsman to identify needed supports.