Still no answers two months after man was shot by ENR officer in Fort Simpson

Dennis Nelner was in his Fort Simpson home when he was accidentally shot by an ENR officer in September 2019. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Nelner).

It has now been more than two months since a man was shot in Fort Simpson by a Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) wildlife officer.

Still, neither the victim nor the public have any idea exactly why it happened.

Dennis Nelner, 54, was sitting in his home minding his own business back on September 20th when a slug crashed through his window and ricocheted around the room before lodging in his thigh.

He had to be medevaced to Yellowknife to have the slug removed.

Nelner was on crutches for weeks and says the wound has just recently healed over.

The shot was fired by an ENR officer who was shooting at a black bear that had wandered into the community, not uncommon in Fort Simpson.

Nelner says he heard several shots at the time but doesn’t believe any of them hit the bear.

An RCMP officer, called to the scene, eventually shot and killed the bear.

Separate investigations by both ENR and the Mounties were then initiated.

The government has now finished its probe.

“I can confirm the department’s internal investigation is complete and the report is currently being finalized. However, due to the ongoing RCMP investigation, we are not able to release any information on the findings at this time,” stated ENR spokesperson Joslyn Oosenbrug in an email to CKLB last week. “We will release more information as soon as we are able. Please keep in mind that given the personal information contained in the report, we will not be able to release the report in its entirety.”

ENR officials have so far not said whether the officer has undergone firearm safety retraining, whether he had ever received firearm training in the first place and if he is still armed when he is on duty.

The Mounties say they are still investigating the incident.

“I spoke with Fort Simpson RCMP and they advise that there is no update at the moment, and that the investigation is ongoing,” stated Julie Plourde, Yellowknife-based RCMP media relations officer in an email. Every investigation is unique in the challenges it may present, and the time required to complete them is based on many factors, including the nature and complexity of the incident, the number of individuals involved, the number of witnesses (who) need to be interviewed as well as their availability and location. We can’t say at the moment when the investigation will be concluded and when the RCMP will be able to provide an update.”

Nelner, who works for the GNWT, says he is physically recovering nicely, and is taking all the investigative delays in stride.

“I haven’t received any information from any of the (investigators) involved at all. I kind of expected that. I know these things take time so I can’t press them too hard for answers they don’t yet have, Nelner told CKLB.  “My focus now is just trying to get into wellness and recover from this incident.  I have a second lease on life.”

Nelner said in a previous interview that he is just thankful his wife and kids were away that day otherwise the shooting could have been far more tragic.

He says he believes that the officer who fired the shot may have been moved out of the community.

However on the GNWT’s directory he is still listed as working in Fort Simpson.

ENR as well as CKLB are not naming him at this time.

CKLB will continue to ask RCMP for answers including whether the ENR officer will be charged.

Theoretically, he could be charged with careless use of a firearm or even criminal negligence causing bodily harm.



About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.