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  • Writer's pictureKlondike Kate

School scandal review fails parents and victims

YUKON - Independent review report biased towards decision makers

A government-led report on why it concealed sexual abuse is trying to spread the blame so thin that nobody responsible is held to account (Image: WN)

BEFORE READING: This story contains references to the sexual abuse of children

An independent review of why the Yukon government covered up the sexual abuse of children at Hidden Valley elementary school has delivered a slap across the face to the victims and parents involved.

The review was supposed to provide a "detailed and comprehensive" report on why the government made a decision to not tell parents of Hidden Valley that one of its employees was convicted of sexually abusing a student and could have abused other students also.

When the results of the review were presented publicly at a press conference on January 31, the entire document worked towards a conclusion of "there is no one person to be held responsible for the Government's failure."

Liberal MLA and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver immediately capitalised on this finding and proclaimed during the press conference that nobody involved in the cover-up would face repercussions.

Zero accountability

Far from providing the results it promised, the review delivered a report that is glossing over critical facts, seriously deficient in evidence and heavily biased in favour of the government that commissioned it.

The Whitewash News analysed the report in an effort to understand how it enabled a small group of politicians and deputy ministers to claim zero accountability.

This article lays out eighteen points that help explain why the review failed so badly to get answers for parents whose lives have been turned upside down by the scandal.

1. Rogers connection to government

In October 2021, Liberal MLA and Education Minister Jeanie McLean announced that her government had hired Vancouver-based lawyer Amanda Rogers to carry out an "independent review" and deliver a report.

Rogers already had connections to the Yukon government. She shares her business 'Labour Arbitration & Mediation Services Ltd.' with lawyer Vincent Ready whom the government has hired on numerous occasions in the past.

No opposition party or parents or anyone independent of the government was consulted on the hiring of Rogers which means that the Liberals got exactly who they wanted to carry out their review.

2. Terms of Reference

The scope and powers of the review carried out by Rogers were dictated by the Terms of Reference. These terms were discussed in secret between Rogers and the government.

The government did not consult with anybody before agreeing the terms with Rogers which means the terms were never scrutinised or challenged by anyone not implicated in the sexual abuse cover-up.

Rogers subsequently put the terms in an engagement letter which the Liberals uploaded to the Legislative Assembly website on October 12, 2021 under 'Tabled Documents.'

The terms are extremely favourable to the Liberals and their deputy ministers because they are expressly focused on issues of "policy" and "departmental processes" instead of focusing on individual decision-makers.

To make matters worse for the Hidden Valley parents, the strict wording of the terms means that not only was Rogers prohibited from investigating who was responsible, but she was also prevented from asking for any documents that might help identify those responsible.

If Rogers had asked for such documents, the government's lawyers could have simply turned around and claimed that her request was outside of the scope of the Terms of Reference.

3. No power to compel documents

Rogers was given no power to compel the government to provide all documents related to the sexual abuse issue. This means that her review had to rely solely on what the government was happy to give her and not on all of the documents that could be relevant.

The documents referred to in the report are documents that were already known to the public as a result of access-to-information requests made by the CBC in 2021.

This damage control tactic prevented new documents from being introduced as part of the review, which in turn prevented additional revelations that could harm the government.

By failing to include this context in her report, Rogers gives the false impression that her findings are based on all of the evidence instead of just a fraction of it.

4. Government documents destroyed

As a matter of policy, the Yukon government preserves deleted emails and documents on its servers for a maximum of six months before they are permanently deleted.

Rogers was given no power to compel the government to preserve these documents in such a way that they would not be deleted at all.

This means that not only did Rogers not have access to deleted records, but those same records may now be lost forever because of the amount of time that has passed.

5. Government of Canada completely ignored

In her report, Rogers says that on December 16, 2019, an unnamed government communications employee was intending to contact a Crown prosecutor to try to find out "whether a publication ban would be sought."

No additional records pertaining to the Crown prosecutor are mentioned after this date therefore it remains unknown what the prosecutor's response was.

The involvement of a Crown prosecutor and the Government of Canada is an obvious avenue for gathering evidence and yet Rogers completely ignores it.

Her report never returns to the Crown prosecutor discussion and there is no mention of any interviews with the prosecution service or other federal officials.

By not pursuing the facts and evidence that the federal government has to offer, the review is highlighting another major shortcoming in terms of how it was carried out.

6. There was no cover up

In her review report, Rogers says that she saw no information to suggest that the government's decision to conceal the sexual abuse was "motivated by a desire to conceal or cover up."

Rogers was given very limited access to records and interviewed only a handful of the people who were involved in one way or another with the scandal.

The fact that Rogers made this comment - without clarifying that it was based on very little information - demonstrates a degree of bias in the review.

7. 'Never' not 'Earlier'

Making the cover-up more heinous is the knowledge that it would still be ongoing, and the public would be none the wiser, were it not for the fact that the parents of a victim filed a civil claim against the government in July of last year.

Despite this, Rogers in her report goes to great lengths to frame the entire issue as a question of why the government didn't inform parents "earlier" that a paedophile had been working at their children's school.

The report is implying that the government did tell parents but they were late in doing so.

The government never told the parents.

This kind of spin is typical of the Yukon government and its inclusion in the report is a strong indicator of bias.

8. Names already named

Rogers in her report does not name a single politician or government official who hasn't already been written about extensively in media coverage since the scandal broke in July 2021.

Instead of naming more people, Rogers simply says that she interviewed "numerous Government employees across departments." She doesn't even mention which departments were involved.

The net result of this strategy is that it makes it harder for the public to pinpoint exactly who was responsible for the decision-making and exactly who should be held accountable.

9. Blame everyone, blame nobody

Rogers in her report attempts to spread blame so thin that no individuals can be held responsible or to account.

She uses language like "government" and "departments" to describe decision-makers.

This careful use of language creates the impression that thousands of government employees could somehow all have contributed to the government’s failures.

Rogers goes even further in the conclusion section of her report where she delivers a final opinion that “there is no one person to be held responsible for the Government’s failure.”

Not only is this language heavily biased towards the government’s own narrative but it also belies the reality of how the machinery of government operates.

In reality, only a handful of individuals can possibly be held responsible and accountable for the cover-up and it is easy to identify them.

10. Tracy-Anne McPhee

Disgraced Liberal MLA Tracy-Anne McPhee was Education Minister and Justice Minister for most of the duration of the cover-up.

Since the cover-up was exposed, McPhee has misled the public on numerous occasions about issues such as publication bans and privacy laws.

She has also thrown the RCMP under the bus for her mistakes and made the false claim that parents wanted her to move on from the scandal.

McPhee not only knew about the sexual abuse from the very first arrest but as per the democratic principles of ministerial accountability, she is supposed to be held accountable for her departments.

While it’s repulsive to the public that McPhee has not resigned or been fired by Yukon Premier and fellow Liberal MLA Sandy Silver, it makes perfect sense from a political perspective to keep her in place.

Under sections 27 and 28 of the Legislative Assembly Allowances Act, MLAs are not entitled to a lifelong pension unless they serve at least six years. McPhee is still ten months away from securing that pension because she was first appointed to cabinet in December 2016.

If Silver was to fire McPhee now, he would be creating a 'loose cannon' situation where McPhee could bring down the entire NDP-supported Liberal government by speaking freely, with no pension to lose, about what really happened.

11. Jeanie McLean

Liberal MLA Jeanie McLean is the current Education Minister and the person directly responsible for how the independent review was carried out.

When news of the sexual abuse cover-up by her department first became public, McLean denied any wrongdoing, refused to apologise, and made false statements to the effect that a publication ban prevented her from telling the truth.

Under principles of Canadian democracy, McLean is to be held accountable for the actions carried out by her department.

12. Nicole Morgan

Nicole Morgan is the deputy minister of Education and was fully aware of the sexual abuse allegations, conviction and sentencing.

As deputy minister, Morgan reported to McPhee when the cover-up started and reported to McLean in the months leading up to the cover-up being exposed.

Morgan answers directly to Silver who put her in her position.

Morgan was legally obligated to keep both McPhee and McLean informed of the sexual abuse. Both McPhee and McLean were legally obligated to keep Silver informed.

Morgan signed off on every decision the department made to not inform parents of the abuse and she is supposed to be held responsible for every single decision Education makes.

Left out of the Rogers report altogether is the fact that Silver promoted Morgan and gave her a pay raise on September 14, 2021, just two months after the scandal became public and one month after the independent review was launched.

The fact that Morgan received a promotion and pay raise as a reward for disgraceful conduct again repulsed the public but from a political perspective, it made perfect sense to keep her onboard.

If Morgan was fired from her position, she would lose the protection of free government lawyers and she could be pressured into speaking freely about the cover-up.

13. Pauline Frost

One of the most glaring omissions from the independent review report is the matter of former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost.

In November 2019, Frost was Minister of Health and Social Services (HSS) when her department received word that the RCMP had arrested a government employee on charges of child sexual abuse.

Frost continued as HSS minister all the way up until the general election in April 2021 and yet she is not even mentioned by Rogers in her report.

This omission casts serious doubt on the integrity of the independent review because Frost would have critical information and documents to share with Rogers.

The fact that Frost would have known about the abuse presents a real challenge to the opinion given by Rogers that neither Silver, nor any other cabinet members aside from McPhee, were aware of the issue until a civil case made it public.

Rogers is effectively asking us to believe that not only did McPhee not tell her cabinet colleagues or premier about the most urgent file on her desk anytime between November 2019 and July 2021, but that Frost did not tell her colleagues or premier either.

14. Stephen Samis Stephen Samis is the deputy minister of HSS.

He reported to Frost up until the April 2021 territorial election. Since then, he has been reporting to McPhee.

He answers directly to Silver.

In November 2019, he was informed about the sexual abuse and like Morgan, he signed off on every single decision his department made to keep the abuse under wraps.

Under Canada’s democratic principles, Samis is to be held responsible for all of the decisions his department makes.

The Hidden Valley scandal is not the first cover-up scandal Samis has been involved in. The previous scandal in 2018 centred around the mistreatment of youth at Yukon-government run group homes.

Samis initially denied any wrongdoing in that scandal but was later forced to apologise following a CBC exposé.

As a deputy minister, Samis has also waged a war against the public’s right to information by constantly blocking access-to-information requests and forcing the Yukon’s Privacy Commissioner to go to court on numerous occasions just to get information the public has a right to access.

This culture of fostering an adversarial attitude towards the public's right to know is directly relevant to how the cover-up of child sexual abuse at Hidden Valley was able to happen.

15. John Phelps

John Phelps has been deputy minister of Justice since January 1, 2019 and is responsible for all of the legal advice given to government since the sexual offender William Auclaire-Bellemare’s arrest in November 2019.

Phelps reports to McPhee and answers to Silver.

Just like Morgan and Samis, the principles of Canadian democracy means that Phelps is responsible for the actions of his department, including bad legal advice that damages the lives of Yukoners.

Like Samis, Phelps is notorious for blocking freedom of information requests. He uses taxpayer-funded lawyers to fight the Yukon's Privacy Commissioner and keep public information out of the public's hands.

Phelps presides over a culture in his department whereby concealing information from the public is expected, encouraged and rewarded.

16. Sandy Silver

As Yukon Premier, Sandy Silver is ultimately accountable for the actions of both his cabinet members and the government he presides over.

He is also the person who rewarded Morgan for her role in the cover-up and who defiantly insisted that McPhee stay on as Justice minister after she lost a confidence vote in the legislature.

17. No questions asked

Despite being one of the main decision-makers implicated in the cover-up, Frost was never questioned by Rogers as part of the review.

Rogers didn’t question Silver either, nor did she question any member of the Liberal cabinet aside from McPhee about their knowledge of the cover-up.

Rogers says she did question McPhee as part of her review, but those questions were not asked as part of a proper examination, on the record and under oath, which means any answers she got are essentially worthless.

Only a public inquiry, civil action or criminal investigation will be able to put Silver, McPhee, McLean, Frost and the five other serving liberal MLAs in cabinet under the spotlight, along with their deputy ministers, in a way that they are questioned properly.

A public inquiry is something that the Liberals have been strenuously avoiding in the face of mounting pressure from the Hidden Valley parents and victims.

Only the Yukon Party is supporting the parents and victims on this front by actively pushing for a public inquiry.

The Yukon NDP was asking for a public inquiry when the scandal first broke but party leader Kate White went cold on the idea after it became clear that her party could only have sway in the Yukon if it aligned itself with the Liberals.

18. Opinions over facts

The bias displayed by Rogers is most prominently on display when she makes two statements in support of the Liberals.

First, Rogers says that "none of the associated Ministers were kept informed nor was information about the decision to not communicate with families brought up to Cabinet level."

Then she says that it “should be noted that July 16, 2021 was the first time the Premier and Minister McLean learned about the WAB matter."

These are opinions provided by Rogers, not findings of fact, and they have no place in an independent review.

Rogers has no way of knowing for certain if the associated ministers were informed of the sexual abuse matter, no way of knowing if the matter was raised at Cabinet level, and no way of knowing when Silver and McLean learned of the matter.

Aside from McPhee, Rogers didn’t interview any members of cabinet, under oath or otherwise, and she didn’t have access to information that would help her figure out who knew what.

In her report, Rogers says that her opinion is based on “briefing notes” provided by the government.

What Rogers is essentially asking the Yukon public to believe is that the only way cabinet members ever share information with each other is through briefing notes.

Rogers is going even further than that because she is also asking us to believe that members of the same political party only share information through briefing notes; not through phone calls, not through Zoom meetings, not through texts, emails or in-person meetings.

Prolonged suffering

The government-led independent review carried out by Rogers was highly flawed and designed to let those responsible for the cover-up off the hook.

Only a civil trial, public inquiry or criminal investigation will ever get to the truth of what happened and hold those responsible to account.

A civil trial is unlikely because the government will use taxpayer dollars to pay off and gag everyone who has sued them to date.

Criminal charges against the government could be years off and may never happen if the government destroys enough records in the meantime.

This leaves a public inquiry as the only way to get answers and ease suffering, sooner rather than later, for those impacted by the sexual abuse.


Editors' note: This story was published in the 'Real News' section of our website. Facts are supported by the links provided within the story. If you have information or a tip regarding misconduct by politicians or government officials, or if you have been treated poorly by the government, please consider sharing your story with us. We fully appreciate the risk of repercussions involved in speaking out and take very seriously your requests to remain anonymous.

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