School scandal part of Yukon 'cover-up culture'
YUKON - Protecting decision makers more important than protecting kids
The Government of Yukon failed to disclose to parents that there was at least one incident of a student being sexually abused at Hidden Valley Elementary school during the 2019-2020 school term (Photo: stock photo)
Parents of children attending Hidden Valley Elementary in Whitehorse are raging against the Government of Yukon (GY) for failing to protect their children.
On December 2, 2019, an educational assistant at the elementary school was charged with sexual interference of a six-year-old student.
The child was in the care of the educational assistant when the abuse happened.
Despite the danger, GY hid both the crime and RCMP investigation from parents whose children are attending kindergarten up to Grade 7 at the school.
The parents only became aware of the sexual abuse and the government's knowledge of the investigation after the media reported on a civil action filed two weeks ago by the father of a child who was abused by the educational assistant.
In July, the CBC independently confirmed that the matter had previously gone through a criminal court proceeding, and that the educational assistant had pled guilty in 2020 to one count of sexual interference.
The assistant was sentenced to six months in jail and two years of probation following his release.
The abuse was discovered after the victim told his father the assistant had done a "body check" on him at a "secret room" in the school.
When the incident was originally reported 18 months ago, Yukon Liberals MLA Tracy-Anne McPhee was the territory's education minister.
McPhee and the Department of Education made a decision at the time to not tell parents that a sexual predator had been active in their children's school.
Following a general election in the Yukon in April 2021, a minority government was formed between the Liberals and NDP. After a cabinet shuffle, the Department of Education remained under the Liberals' control with Mountainview MLA Jeanie McLean taking on the mantle from McPhee.
Despite covering up the incident and not alerting parents to the fact that their children could possibly have been in contact with a sexual predator, McLean and the Department of Education are taking a defensive stance against the parents' demand for information.
McLean is refusing to acknowledge that she and her government failed in their duty to the children and their parents.
In response, the parents of Hidden Valley Elementary are raging at McLean and McPhee for putting party politics before the safety of young children.
Yukon Liberals MLAs Jeanie McLean (on left) and Tracy Anne-McPhee have been accused of failing to inform parents of the sexual assault of an elementary school student (Photos: Government of Yukon)
Harrowing experience for parents
Since the sexual abuse and government cover-up became public knowledge three weeks ago, the parents have been undergoing harrowing and traumatic experiences.
If the parents had been alerted when the criminal charges were laid in 2019, they could have talked to their children at the time and been on the look out for any behavioural changes that might suggest victimization.
The Department of Education robbed them of that opportunity and now the parents are racking their brains trying to remember things their children might have said to them over the past two years.
To make matters worse, because the parents weren't informed back in 2019, the RCMP criminal investigation at the time didn't include interviews or information provided by parents other than the parents of the one confirmed victim to date.
As a result, the RCMP is now investigating additional reports of abuse at the school after parents pointed out that they couldn't possibly have investigated properly the first time around without reaching out to all parents whose children attend the school.
Insulting and defensive response
Having had their emails and phone calls ignored for weeks by McLean, the parents finally received a letter from the MLA on August 6, but only after intense media scrutiny and public outcry.
Parents who received McLean's letter said that it was unapologetic and defensive. The letter allegedly did not address a single one of the concerns that the parents had clearly expressed.
In interviews with the CBC, the parents said that they were "appalled," "disgusted" and "insulted" by the "ludicrous and insensitive" letter. One parent accused McLean of "dancing around" an extremely serious and potentially life-altering issue.
The parents continue to accuse the Department of Education of a cover-up and are saying that McLean's hollow words have added to their distress.
Mind-boggling levels of bullshit
Compounding the difficulties for parents, children and staff of Hidden Valley has been the mind-boggling levels of bullshit employed by McLean and senior public servants since the scandal broke three weeks ago.
At a press conference on August 4, McLean was asked by Yukon News reporter Haley Ritchie why the Department of Education had not informed parents eighteen months ago that a sexual offender had been working in the school.
McLean's response was that her department didn't inform parents eighteen months ago because of a civil lawsuit that was filed three weeks ago.
Clearly, the impossible time-bending logic of the statement meant that it was complete bullshit.
The CBC's Jackie Hong, who had been attending the conference by phone, attempted to further question McLean on why her department didn't inform the parents before she was abruptly cut off by the government communications director Pat Living.
When Hong tried to pose the question again, Living cut her off again and then proceeded to mute her before finally disconnecting the call.
The aggressive shutting down of a reporter's questioning prompted the Canadian Association of Journalists to issue a statement that read:
"We're concerned about the muting and removal of a reporter from a Government of Yukon press conference this morning. Journalists have the right to ask questions of elected officials, and the public has the right to hear both questions and answers."
A clip from an August 4 press conference shows Minister of Education Jeanie McLean doing nothing in response to the shutting down of valid questions put by CBC reporter Jackie Hong (Video: Government of Yukon)
Doubling down on the bullshit
The CBC stated in the days following the August 4 press conference that "while the lawsuit filed by the student's father is still in the early stages of the civil court process, the concerns being raised by parents about the lack of notification about the abuse are not part of the lawsuit or any other court process."
McLean's statement that the matter was before the courts and so she couldn't talk about it was not only bullshit but it also highlighted her poor knowledge of litigation and lack of understanding with regards to what can and cannot be talked about publicly in the context of the specific civil action in which the government is a named defendant.
Despite the farcical nature of McLean's reasoning, the government is nevertheless doubling down on the bullshit and is now using the recently filed civil action as its official reason for not offering answers or comfort to parents.
In a response to media questions on August 6, Erin MacDonald, the director of communications for the Department of Education declined to share any information "due to an ongoing lawsuit."
The government's defensive strategy is causing a rise in the anger levels of Yukoners and an increase in the severity of hardship faced by Hidden Valley parents.
It isn't just the Hidden Valley parents and media that McLean is picking a fight with.
On August 3, the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Annette King announced that her office intends to carry out a "systemic review" of safety at Hidden Valley.
In response, McLean raised her hackles and told the Whitehorse Star on August 6 that King doesn't have the authority to launch such a review.
King disagreed with McLean's statement and pointed to McLean's misinterpretation of the role of the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office, a body that is independent of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
One of the most basic misinterpretations, as reported by the CBC, was McLean's suggestion that King could commence a review under Section 15 of Yukon's Child and Youth Advocate Act, where a minister or the legislative assembly can ask the advocate to review a matter of concern, only after the lawsuit and police investigations are settled.
King, however, did not launch her review under Section 15 of the Act. King launched her review under Section 12 which gives her authority to look into "a policy or systemic issue... that raises a substantial question of public interest."
The basic lack of understanding on McLean's part is raising questions about whether she is the right person to head up the Department of Education and handle the current crisis.
McLean's suggestion that the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate should carry out a review after the lawsuit and police investigations "are settled" implies that it could be years before school safety is reviewed and improved.
While many Yukoners are taken aback by how GY is treating parents, reporters and the Yukon's Child Advocate, the draconian language and displays of belligerence from GY are actually nothing new.
This is the second major scandal in three years involving a failure to protect youth in government-run institutions.
The previous scandal in 2018 centred around the mistreatment of youth at Yukon-government run group homes. The government initially denied any mistreatment was occurring but then later apologized for it after the CBC blew the lid on the story.
None of the senior public servants responsible for the group homes scandal resigned or were fired. Not a single MLA stepped down from their positions despite the profound damage caused by their department's ineptitude.
The only person fired as part of the scandal was a whistleblower who came forward with complaints to the Deputy Minister responsible for the group homes. The same Deputy Minister who fired the whistleblower is still in his position.
The lack of action on addressing the conduct of senior public servants at the root of the problems, and the firing of the person who reported government wrongdoing, sent a clear signal that cover-up culture is not just accepted, but encouraged in the Yukon's public service.
Editors' Note: Some Yukon politicians and public servants cause untold damage in our communities by viewing the public and others who would hold them to account as adversaries while viewing themselves as untouchable. If you have experience of being ignored by public servants or MLAs, or if you have received unsatisfactory responses from them, consider sharing your story with the Yukon's traditional news outlets or the Whitewash News. Ask for your identity to be kept private if you are in fear of losing your job or other professional repercussions. It's possible to create change and better our society if enough people are willing to speak up.
This story was published in the 'Real News' section of our website. Facts are supported by the links provided within the story.