Justice minister Tracy-Anne McPhee speaks in the legislature on May 15. The Department of Justice has refused to answer questions over the number of government settlements in the sexual abuse claims. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Yukon government silent on scope of sex abuse settlements

Justice department refuses to answer questions

The Yukon’s justice minister says she doesn’t know how many cases the territorial government has settled over allegations of sexual abuse.

Her department has chosen to go silent.

Tracy-Anne McPhee also couldn’t say how much the government has spent settling cases with alleged victims.

“There would be a number of cases, both historic and more recent,” McPhee said Oct. 16.

“If there were allegations involving someone who was employed by the government or acting on behalf of the government obviously the government would be involved as a named defendant in those kind of cases.”

A Toronto Star investigation published over the weekend found that the Yukon government has settled at least six cases involving a former principal and foster parent identified only as J.V.

The same man was convicted in 1987 after he pleaded guilty to sexual assault and indecent assault of five children, the Star reported. He was the foster parent to three of them and a youth group leader to another.

After McPhee claimed she didn’t know how widespread these kind of government settlements are, the News reached out to the Department of Justice asking how many sexual abuse claims involving J.V. or others have been settled and how much money has been spent.

The department refused to answer the questions.

Justice department spokesperson Dan Cable said he had no comment. “Details of settlements or their contents are never released by the government,” he said in an email.

Cable did not explain how revealing the total number of cases or the total amount of money spent would violate confidentiality agreements.

He also refused to release the language of any of the agreements the government signed that would prove the deals kept them from revealing overall numbers.

According to the Toronto Star story, which was published the same day by the News, sources close to the J.V. cases say there could be as many as 100 victims yet to come forward.

In the Yukon Legislative Assembly Oct. 16 NDP Leader Liz Hanson said pressuring victims to settle cases, as was described in the story, doesn’t serve the victims or the general public.

“Has the minister given consideration to establishing a non-adversarial process through which victims can seek the compensation they deserve while maintaining their dignity?” she asked.

Following question period, McPhee acknowledged that was something that should be talked about.

“But I want to be very clear that that doesn’t mean more victims will come forward,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean more people will come because that’s an individual decision. There are lots of reasons, complex reasons, why someone would decide to proceed through a court process, civil or criminal, or why they may not.”

Settlement agreements, including any promise of confidentiality, are agreed to by both the alleged victims and the government, she said.

“It alleviates the requirement for an individual to have to go either through a discovery process, through situations where they are questioned by lawyers beforehand, whether they go to trial and testify, those kind of things,” she said.

“I think that settling these cases is a way in which we avoid some re-victimization of people and that should be continuing.”

The civil cases involving J.V., uncovered by former Yukon News reporter Jesse Winter, were all settled over the last 10 years.

For their part, current Yukon Party MLAs, including former justice minister Brad Cathers, insist they had no idea these cases were being settled.

“Our office first became aware of this issue over the weekend. Our hearts go out to the victims of this sickening abuse,” chief of staff Ted Laking said in an email. “For questions regarding how this decision was made, please contact the Government of Yukon.”

McPhee said she would not have been involved in dealing with any of the cases. “I must maintain the impartiality of the attorney general on behalf of the government and so those individual cases do not come to my desk.”

The one case that was settled while the Liberals have been in power was settled using an Outside lawyer for the government’s insurance company, she said.

The Council of Yukon First Nations declined to comment on the stories and suggested the News speak to Kwanlin Dün First Nation. No one from KDFN was immediately available for comment, but spokesperson Chris Madden said someone would be able to speak to the issue later this week or next.

The Committee on Abuse In Residential Schools was unable to comment before press time. In a text message, Yukon Teachers’ Association president Katherine Mackwood said none of the current YTA staff were working for the association at the time of the alleged abuse, and “we haven’t knowledge of these reprehensible evildoers.”

With files from Jackie Hong and Jesse Winter

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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