Independent report critical of Yukon’s handling of school sex crime investigation
Published February 1, 2022 at 6:40 pm
WHITEHORSE — Yukon Premier Sandy Silver apologized Tuesday for a “break down in the system” over the handling of a sexual interference allegation at a school in Whitehorse.
Silver said the government accepts the seven recommendations of an independent report by Vancouver lawyer Amanda Rogers calling for policy changes to ensure school incidents, including criminal allegations against employees, are properly handled and communicated.
The premier said he appointed his deputy minister, Stephen Mills, to oversee the report’s recommendations and present a plan by Feb. 18.
“There was an absolute critical break down in the system,” Silver said at a news conference. “We accept and will implement all of the report’s recommendations. I’m truly sorry that this has happened.”
In November 2019, the report says police were told that a child alleged they had been sexually abused.
The report says a former education assistant was sentenced last year to six months in custody and two years’ probation after being convicted of sexual interference.
It says parents learned of the conviction last summer when the CBC reported on a civil lawsuit that was filed against the school employee and the Yukon Department of Education. Since then, the report says seven additional charges have been filed against the employee after two complainants came forward with allegations.
None of the charges or the related facts now outstanding against the accused have been proven in court.
Parents at the school say they found out about the allegations in July, more than a year after the original charge was laid, when details of the civil lawsuit were reported.
Rogers told the news conference the government’s response to the incident was insufficient.
“I think everybody knows something there went wrong and it was publicly acknowledged by government even before I started this review,” she said. “I find that the response of government was inadequate.”
Rogers said the government properly addressed the employee-employer relations aspect of the matter by initially suspending the employee, but its communication response was a failure.
“What wasn’t handled well, and what has outraged parents and the public more generally, is the government’s failure to communicate about the allegations and the fact (the person) had been removed from the school,” she said. “There was, I believe, a misinterpretation or oversimplification or misunderstanding about what could be conveyed and to whom and when.”
She said the government missed its obligation to inform parents and the public about the issue.
“The true impact of the government’s failure to communicate with parents earlier was a lost opportunity to provide them with necessary resources to assist them in talking with their children and navigating the fear and anxiety that comes from learning your child may have been sexually abused, or worse, that they had,” the report says.
Rogers said her report dissected where the government went wrong, “and, more importantly, I think, how to prevent something like this from happening in the future.”
The report’s recommendations include: implementing a policy in the Education Department for addressing school incidents, including criminal allegations, and ensuring school administrators, teachers and staff are provided training in their duty to report and document suspected abuse on an annual basis.
“The best we can hope for is to learn from these mistakes and ensure better processes are put in place to ensure families’ trust and confidence in the public education system and its ability to educate children and keep them safe while at school is restored,” Rogers concludes in her report.
Silver said the review addressed critical gaps that need to be filled, but he said no one person was responsible and there was no evidence of a cover up.
The RCMP and the Department of Education have previously apologized for their handling of the investigation.
The leader of the Opposition Yukon Party said the report was an indictment of the Liberal government’s handling of the matter and called for the resignation of the former education minister, Tracy-Anne McPhee, who is now deputy premier.
“This report makes clear what the vast majority of Yukoners already believe: that the now deputy premier should resign from cabinet over the mishandling of this matter,” said Currie Dixon in a statement. “As the former minister of education, she is ultimately accountable for the inadequate response to this.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2022.
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