WHITEHORSE - Most at risk of violence now at greater risk of violence
Jeanie Dendys shows off her taxpayer-funded cell phone in the Yukon legislature on March 3 (File photo)
At a virtual town hall on May 29, the Yukon's chief medical officer Dr. Brendan Hanley announced that the Yukon's border with BC would reopen on July 1, partly in response to a sharp rise in domestic abuse incidents since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
The very same day, Minister responsible for the Women's Directorate Jeanie Dendys abruptly cut service to cell phones the government had provided to vulnerable women to use during the pandemic.
Dendys said on March 4 that the phones were crucial to give the women "options to safely access the support they need.” By cutting off access to that support, without any warning, and at a time when she knew violence against women was on the rise, Dendys willfully put women in harm's way.
According to Heidi Marion with the Status of Women Council, the decision led to a number of violent incidents last weekend.
"The abusers were aware that their phones weren't working," Marion said. "We have accounts that even the 911 wasn't working."
Dendys acknowledged she gave little thought to the impact her callous and cruel decision-making would have.
Yukon News: Dendys says decision to put women at risk was "quick"
"It was a quick decision" she said. "It wasn't something we felt warranted much consideration because vulnerable women are useless at election time. They don't get out and vote."
"Vulnerable women are useless at election time. They don't get out and vote." - Jeanie Dendys, Minister for Women's Directorate
Exploitation of vulnerable people
Dendys comments on vulnerable people at election time was a reference to her 2016 election campaign. During that campaign, members of her team were alleged to have taken advantage of intoxicated and hungover people in the Mountainvew riding by driving them to the polls to vote for her.
Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill was forced to issue a statement asking the NDP, Yukon Party and Lilberal Party to run clean campaigns.
Eileen Vance-Duschene, executive assistant to the chief, said the First Nation had been made aware of complaints regarding candidates from all three parties, including Dendys.
"It was a lot of effort on our part, the gas was expensive, and we didn't get a lot of thanks for it" Dendys said in a CBC interview at the time.
A Jeanie Dendys campaign poster from the 2016 Yukon general election (Image: YLP)
The reason Dendys gave for cutting off the cell phones is that the initiative was proving too expensive because of the amount of data the women at risk were using.
"The phones will be reinstated at a later date but without data" she explained. "Maybe instead of gouging the government, the women can use free public WiFi available at businesses across the Yukon."
"Instead of gouging the government, the women can use free public WiFi available at businesses across the Yukon." - Jeanie Dendys, Minister for Women's Directorate
Aside from the fact that many businesses in the territory remain closed due to the pandemic, the ones that are open have to limit to the number of customers they can leave in due to social distancing guidelines.
When asked if it was unfair to cut vulnerable women off from the phones they desperately need, especially without any warning, Dendys responded by suggesting she was the one being treated unfairly.
"I didn't think my decision would be questioned" she said. "This is kind of a surprise to be called out like this. It feels a bit unfair to me, to be honest."
Passing the buck
Dendys, at the start of March, allocated $52,000 to cover four months of phone bills for 325 Yukon women. By the end of May, the bill was at $58,756.
Although Dendys has pointed the blame at the women, it was the shrewd business deal she made with Bell Mobile that caused the high bills.
The deal limited the women to just 3GB of data each per month to use on everything including video calls to people they rely upon to provide protection, critical services and support. After the 3GB was used, Bell charged extortionate prices for data usage.
Money not an issue, if you're a minister
In contrast to the $58,756 spent on keeping hundreds of women safe, Dendys will receive a total income this year of $144,996, according to the website of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. On top of this, she has a cell phone with data that is paid for by the taxpayer.
Her 12 staff members at the women's directorate will be paid a total of $963,000. Having almost a million dollars a year to spend on staff ensures that Dendys role in the women's directorate is purely ceremonial and mainly involves announcements and speeches.
The Deputy Minister's Office at Tourism and Culture, a department Dendys is also responsible for, will get $599,000. That office has 2 staff members, including the Deputy Minister.