UPDATED Wednesday, December 8
Liberal candidate Kirk Cameron’s partner accused New Democrat Leader Elizabeth Hanson of contributing to the death of a homeless man seven years ago.
The accusation came as a question during the all-candidate’s debate Sunday night at Whitehorse Elementary School.
Hanson was regional director for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in November 2003 when Jake Jackson died from a blow to the head while living on the streets of Whitehorse, said audience member Roxanne Livingstone, Cameron’s girlfriend.
Livingstone was a reporter for CHON radio at the time and was investigating the department’s refusal to fund homeless First Nation people staying in hotels, she said.
“Because of your office’s decision to deny that right to the aboriginal people, they were lining up at the shelter and some were required to sleep on the streets,” said Livingstone.
“(Jackson) died in November 2003 under your watch,” she said.
“If he had been in a hotel, he might have survived.”
Livingstone tried to interview Hanson about the policy, but to no avail.
“I need clarification,” she told Hanson in front of a 50-person audience in the Whitehorse Elementary gym.
Hanson, surprised by the curve-ball question, didn’t know about Livingstone’s efforts to contact her.
“I wasn’t aware that you were attempting to have that conversation with me,” said Hanson.
“I can tell you that I was aware of the serious issues with our interpretation of certain programs in the department,” she said.
Hanson worked hard with non-governmental organizations on the homeless front, she said.
“I thought, and I believed, we had worked out some of the issues.”
As for her personal responsibility in Jackson’s death, Hanson said it isn’t so direct.
“In a Byzantine organization like Indian and Northern Affairs, you may think that’s its simple enough for someone who is the boss to say this is the way it is,” she said.
“In fact, it’s not quite so simple and I did work with those other agencies so that we did provide funding from the department.”
The highly charged accusation was amplified by Livingstone’s close connection with Hanson’s main competitor, Cameron.
Livingstone was unapologetic about raising the issue publicly and in a political setting.
“It was an important question,” she said on Tuesday.
“As a Métis woman, I will always speak out against injustice to aboriginals, injustice to the homeless and injustice to those with no voice,” she said.
“I spoke my mind on an important issue to me – it had nothing to do with Kirk,” he said.
Other than a brief statement, Livingstone would not take any questions.
Bringing up the 2003 incident was meant to have political impact, said Hanson.
“There’s absolutely a political catch here and the fact the candidate knew the question was coming – he didn’t tell me a thing,” she said.
Livingstone had never brought the issue up before, said Hanson.
“I have seen Roxanne in many settings on the same issue and never was it raised,” she said.
“I was shocked because it was a poleaxing – I was blindsided.”
Cameron defended his partner’s query.
“I realize it looks bad, but, frankly, part of my stepping into politics is about being fearless about speaking the truth,” he said on Monday morning. “And frankly that’s her truth and I have no business standing in the way of that.”
He knew Livingstone was going to ask the question.
“I knew generally that she had a big concern about that particular topic,” he said.
“She asked me if I had any problems with her asking a question of that kind and I said, ‘Look Roxanne, you have to do what your conscience tells you to do – you have to make your own judgement call on that one,’” he said.
Livingstone wasn’t the only audience member with partisan leanings to ask a question at Sunday’s debate.
Cherish Clarke, the current president of the Yukon Liberal Party, asked the candidates a question on intergovernmental relations, without disclosing her clear party affiliation.
Jonas Smith, who sits on the Yukon Party executive, also asked a question without disclosing his work with the party.
But for most of the evening, the topic of choice was homelessness and the social programs employed to support them.
Mike Nixon, the Yukon Party candidate, continued to defend downtown from being portrayed as a ghetto.
“To me, (the choice) is between a negative or a positive perception of downtown Whitehorse,” said Nixon.
He also split from the other two candidates by suggesting the government isn’t always the solution to poverty.
“We need to look to the community more,” he said.
“And doings things, like donating to the food bank.”
The choice between shelters and permanent housing was another way the candidates distinguished themselves.
One attendee asked a question about the Yukon government’s slow reception to building a youth shelter, and Hanson repeated an earlier mantra about housing as a right.
“I don’t think a shelter for youth is the appropriate answer,” she said.
“We need to take a serious housing approach to youth at risk and that means implementing some of the recommendations that have been on the books for 10 years,” she said.
“Having worked with youth downtown for five years, sometimes an emergency shelter is needed and I think it has an important role in our community,” he said.
“I would like to see the efforts to build 24-hour shelter continued,” he said.
His party, currently in power, is waiting until the spring to say how it will address the youth shelter issue.
Cameron backed Nixon’s comments.
“Liz’s idea is laudable as a long-term vision, the problem is on a day-to-day basis, there are youth who find themselves without a door to open,” he said.
“We do need a youth shelter.”
Contact James Munson at