A locked locker pictured inside a school on Oct. 20, 2022. The Yukon government claims it has implemented its safer schools action plan. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

A locked locker pictured inside a school on Oct. 20, 2022. The Yukon government claims it has implemented its safer schools action plan. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Yukon government executes safer schools action plan

Plan doesn’t specifically address independent reviewer’s seventh and final recommendation

The Yukon government says it has completely carried out all the actions it promised in 2022 in response to revelations of sexual abuse by a staff member at Hidden Valley Elementary School.

According to a June 20 release, the safer schools action plan contains 23 items that are supposed to be tied to the seven recommendations that came out of a report by independent reviewer Amanda Rogers on the government’s response.

But the action plan does not appear to address the review’s seventh and final recommendation, which calls for fully implementing the recommendations set out in Canada’s auditor general’s June 2019 report to the Yukon Legislative Assembly and Nikki Yee’s report on inclusive and special education in the Yukon.

A June 22 email attributed to the Education department clarified that the action plan specifically addresses recommendations one through six of Rogers’ report.

Per the email, the Education department has accepted the auditor general’s recommendations and the work — which began before the Rogers’ report — is underway to address Rogers’ seventh recommendation. The department previously provided its report, dated Feb. 28, to the public accounts committee claiming progress on addressing the auditor general’s recommendations.

“The actions in the safer schools action plan support this work through their focus on improving the safety and wellbeing for students,” the email said.

“A student’s wellbeing is paramount to their success, and the work of the safer schools action plan helps contribute to Yukon’s schools being safe places of mental and emotional wellness and creating an overall positive school experience for Yukon students.”

In the release, the government highlighted what it considers key advancements in response to the action plan over the past year. These include developing victim support plans, and coming up with new corporate ways for responding to situations where employees are charged, convicted or under investigation for criminal conduct. It also includes carrying out new policies and procedures for preventing and responding to harm by adults, including guidance for information sharing and reporting allegations to the police.

Completing training for all school-based staff on preventing and responding to harm by adults, implementing new onboarding practices, and developing a process for reviewing policies, procedures and best practices for higher risk educational settings are also highlighted in the release.

Executing the plan has involved the departments of Education, Health and Social Services, Justice, the Public Service Commission, the Women and Gender Equity Directorate and the Executive Council Office, as well as the RCMP and others involved to ensure students are safe at school, per the release.

“Our government recognizes the importance of community involvement in creating safer schools, and we remain committed to being an active leader in these efforts,” Premier Ranj Pillai said in the release.

“Although the commitments in the safer schools action plan have been completed, our efforts to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of students, families and staff do not stop here. Through continuous reviews, corrective actions and improvements, we will continue to work with the community to ensure that schools remain a safer, more welcoming and supportive environment for everyone.”

The Yukon government has also accepted, in principle, all eight recommendations stemming from a review by the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office into the government’s handling of sexualized abuse at Hidden Valley Elementary School. That review found children were not prioritized and their rights were violated before, during and after educational assistant William Auclair-Bellemare was charged in 2019 with sexual interference of a student in his care at the school.

The trial for Auclair-Bellemare took place the week of June 12. He faces three charges relating to conduct while he was employed at the school, including sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching and forcible confinement. He entered not guilty pleas for all charges. The matter is back in court on Oct. 13 for the decision.

Lawsuits against Auclair-Bellemare are still active, with nothing yet proven in court. Charges dealing with a separate alleged victim were stayed in February, as the Crown found there was no reasonable chance of obtaining a conviction on that matter.

—With files from Jim Elliot

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com