Child victims "silenced" by Yukon lawyers
YUKON - Legal system 'loophole' used to bury damaging stories
Government of Yukon lawyers are allegedly using a legal loophole and taxpayers' money to silence child victims of sexual abuse in the Yukon (Image: WN)
BEFORE READING: This story contains references to the sexual abuse of children.
A whistleblower at the Government of Yukon has told the Whitewash News that government lawyers are trying to silence multiple child victims of sexual abuse in the territory.
The whistleblower, whom the Whitewash News agreed not to identify by the department they work for, says the lawyers are trying to ensure their clients - Liberal politicians and senior civil servants - are not dragged into civil and criminal court cases.
The lawyers are allegedly acting on the instructions of the Yukon's Attorney General Tracy-Anne McPhee, who oversees litigation against the government and is also one of the people with the most to lose if the victims' stories are heard in court.
Sexual abuse background
The sexual abuse of the child victims was allegedly perpetrated by an educational assistant William Auclair-Bellemare at Hidden Valley Elementary school in Whitehorse between 2015 and 2019.
In December 2019, Auclair-Bellemare was charged with sexual interference of a six-year-old student and subsequently sentenced to prison. The Liberal government was fully-informed of the situation at the time but made a decision to conceal the information.
The government cover-up meant that additional victim claims went undetected and unsupported until a parent filed a lawsuit against the government in July 2021, twenty months later.
After that parent made their child's story public, other parents were able to uncover additional victim claims and also sue the government.
Although CBC Yukon has taken credit for widely publicising the cover-up, it was just one news outlet out of many that got copies of the lawsuit details after they were already made public by the parent.
In truth, it was due to the bravery of the first parent in deciding to go public with a traumatising lawsuit that other parents were able to uncover additional allegations.
This first parent could have demanded and received a huge settlement sum from the government in confidence but any settlement would have included a government gagging order preventing them from alerting the other parents.
CBC Yukon has allowed one if its reporters Jackie Hong to consistently take credit for exposing the cover-up of sexual abuse at Hidden Valley Elementary which serves to diminish the role of the parent who actually made the story public (Image: Twitter/Jackie Hong)
Lawsuits a ticking time-bomb
The three lawsuits filed by parents on behalf of their children are a ticking time-bomb for the Liberal government.
This is because in civil court cases, parties can demand evidence and witness testimony from anyone with knowledge of events leading up to the lawsuit.
In other words, if the lawsuits proceed to trial, Liberal MLAs and their deputy ministers will - for the first time since the scandal broke - be forced to disclose all relevant evidence and answer questions under oath before a judge, meaning the public will learn at least some of the truth about what actually transpired.
Trial proceedings will likely spell the end of careers for multiple MLAs and government employees implicated in the cover-up as well as the decimation of the Yukon Liberal Party as it is known today.
Already, and without any of the powers of a trial proceeding, an investigation by the Yukon's Child and Youth Advocate into why the sexual abuse cover-up happened found that government officials "violated" the rights of children," had "warped priorities" and were more concerned with the impact on the government "rather than the wellbeing of students and their families."
The allegations that government lawyers are trying to prevent the civil trials from going ahead also relate to the very real possibility of Liberal politicians being criminally prosecuted as a result of evidence disclosed during the trials.
Under Canada's Criminal Code, elected officials can be charged, prosecuted and sentenced if they "ought to have known" that a decision they made would have a damaging effect on the public at the time they made it.
This would apply to Liberal MLAs across the board but in particular to Riverdale South MLA Tracy-Anne McPhee, not just because as Justice minister and former Education minister she stands accused of concealing the sexual abuse at Hidden Valley from parents, but also because she is an experienced lawyer.
In order to escape a criminal conviction, McPhee would have to convince a judge or jury that she couldn't have known her decisions to conceal the sexual abuse, or conceal information about the sexual abuse after it was make public, would be damaging to the public.
That defence presents a monumental uphill battle for McPhee who is not only a former prosecutor with expert knowledge of criminal law, but she is also the Yukon's Attorney General, the territory's highest law officer.
Yukon government lawyers are allegedly trying to prevent multiple Liberal MLAs from having to testify in court, including Education minister Jeanie McLean (left) and Justice minister Tracy-Anne McPhee (right), who is also the Yukon's Attorney General (Photo: Government of Yukon)
Major conflict of interest
In her Attorney General role, McPhee provides legal advice to the government and oversees civil litigation on behalf of the government when the government is being sued.
This means that as it stands, not only is McPhee the person overseeing the sexual abuse lawsuits filed against her government but she is also one of the people with the most to lose from those same lawsuits proceeding to trial.
This major conflict of interest has created a situation where a Liberal MLA is directing Department of Justice lawyers to defend herself and her fellow Liberal MLAs against lawsuits that are in the public interest.
If the allegations are true that taxpayer-funded lawyers are attempting to pervert the course of justice and silence child victims of sexual abuse, then McPhee is the person ultimately responsible for those attempts.
Whether or not the allegations are true will be confirmed if none of the lawsuits filed by parents ever make it to trial.
According to the whistleblower, the government strategy to silence the child victims relies partly on an elitist Supreme Court of Yukon rule that offers wealthy defendants a legal loophole to snuff out court cases.
The rule in question, Rule 39 part 25, says that if the defendant offers a sum of money to settle the case, and that sum is the same or more than what the court awards at the end of a trial, then the plaintiffs have to pay all the legal costs of the defendant from the date of the settlement offer onwards.
Unlike everyday Yukoners, the government doesn't have to worry about how to keep its legal fees down or scrape together a big settlement sum - it just takes whatever it wants from public funds and even hires extra private-sector lawyers to team up with its own lawyers.
This effectively means that in the case of the Hidden Valley lawsuits, if the parents turn down the government's offers to settle, those parents may then be on the hook for millions of dollars in legal costs, even if they win their cases against the government.
The loophole gives the government an extraordinarily unfair advantage over anyone suing it and deters people from suing in the first place for fear they could lose their livelihoods, life savings or even homes.
Elitist rules put in place by the Supreme Court of Yukon mean that it is extremely difficult for the public to see justice being done when the government is being sued. (Image: WN)
Politics before people
If the sexual abuse lawsuits against the government proceed to trial, it will be a disaster for the Yukon Liberals but also for the Yukon NDP, the territory's smallest party.
Since April 2021, the NDP has been supporting a minority Liberal government through a confidence-and-supply agreement (CASA).
The CASA is designed to suppress the will of the electorate and allows the NDP to keep the Liberals in power, provided the Liberals allow the NDP to push through its own agenda.
In July 2021, just three months after the CASA was signed, the sexual abuse cover-up was made public and at first Yukon NDP Leader Kate White came out strongly on the side of the child victims and their families. White said publicly at the time that her party's continued support for the Liberals would be dependent on a public inquiry taking place and raised a motion in the legislature asking for one.
Her fellow NDP MLA Emily Tredger demanded McPhee's resignation on October 27, 2021, saying that McPhee is "untrustworthy" and "cannot be allowed to stay in cabinet where she will make more judgment calls that will affect people’s safety. It is not safe for her to be a minister."
That posturing quickly fell by the wayside and on November 24, 2021, less than four weeks after Tredger made the comments about McPhee, all three NDP MLAs voted against a no-confidence motion in the Liberal government and made sure that McPhee stayed in her position.
In a further blow to the public, White dropped all talk of a public inquiry, which is the only other avenue apart from the courts that can hold to account the individuals responsible for the Hidden Valley cover-up.
Yukon NDP MLAs (L-R) Annie Blake, Emily Tredger and leader Kate White. All three voted to keep themselves in power by keeping the Liberals in power, despite Tredger labelling Liberal MLA Tracy-Anne McPhee a danger to Yukoners (Photo: Yukon NDP/Facebook)
Easy way out, misleading claims
The government cover-up of the sexual abuse of children was a surprise to the NDP and this gave the party a very easy way out of the CASA.
This is because the agreement included a "no surprises" clause that allowed either party to immediately nullify the agreement if there were any surprises to either party.
Instead of nullifying the first agreement, however, on Tuesday a second CASA was signed by Liberals leader Ranj Pillai and Yukon NDP leader Kate White.
In response to the fact that Yukoners didn't vote for a Liberal/NDP alliance - especially one that helps suppress the truth about the sexual abuse of children - both Pillai and White appear to be strategically pedalling the same misleading claims to the public.
Those misleading claims relate to statements and implications made by the leaders to the effect that Yukoners don't want an election but do want to see the NDP-Liberals continue their alliance.
On January 16, Pillai told the CBC's Elyn Jones twice during an interview that "I don't think the majority of Yukoners want to see an election." Pillai referenced no data whatsoever to back up his claim.
Then on January 18, again without referencing any data, Pillai told the media that “the majority of Yukoners want to move the Yukon forward versus another election."
The only election-related data that has been made public is in the form of a poll by Léger, the largest Canadian-owned market research and analytics company, that says the Liberals are by far the least popular political party in the Yukon followed closely by the NDP.
These results indicate that the majority of voters do not want either the Liberals or NDP in power, partly because voters didn't know anything about the sexual abuse cover-up during the territory's last general election in April 2021.
The results also infer that most Yukoners want a general election and neither the Liberals nor NDP have released any data to suggest otherwise.
The Léger poll was paid for by the opposition Yukon Party but it's highly likely the Liberals and NDP conducted their own polls (which is considered very common for political parties) and decided to keep them secret because they found the same results.
In what many believe to be a reaction to the dismal lack of support for the Yukon Liberals, on September 9, 2022, just one month after the Léger poll was published, the party's then-leader Sandy Silver announced he was stepping down.
Yukon Liberals new leader Ranj Pillai and Yukon NDP leader Kate White signed a second deal on January 31 to suppress the will of the electorate and keep themselves in power (Photo: Yukon NDP/Facebook)
If the government is successful in silencing all of the child victims of sexual abuse that have sued, it will likely survive until the next general election which has to be held on or before November 3, 2025.
This survival may satisfy the political ambitions of power-hungry NDP and Liberal MLAs but it will come at a huge cost to the public.
The silencing will send a message to politicians, deputy ministers, government lawyers and other government employees who assisted in a variety of ways with the cover-up of sexual abuse, that you can act against the public good and get away with it.
The whistleblower who contacted the Whitewash News with this story said they were doing so "for the sake of my conscience," something that appears to be sorely missing in Yukon politics.
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