The following story contains details of child abuse and sexual assault. Rapid access counselling is available in the Yukon at 867-456-3838.
The Yukon government is accepting, in principle, all eight recommendations stemming from a scathing review by the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office into the government’s handling of sexualized abuse at Hidden Valley Elementary School.
The government is responding to a review that says 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 Hidden Valley Elementary School.
In an Oct. 12 press release, advocate Annette King said the review surfaced systemic failures in how the government generally responds to child abuse in schools.
The review states that “longstanding gaps in educational supports for students with special needs created opportunity for harm to occur,” compounded by the government’s inadequate response following the incident.
This is one of four reviews of the government’s response.
Education Minister Jeanie McLean had committed to responding to the advocate’s review by Nov. 22 and a subsequent progress report within 12 months, as the review recommends.
In the government’s response to King, dated Nov. 22 and signed by McLean, the government is “committed to timely and system-wide corrective action to ensure the wellbeing of Yukon children is put first and remains at the centre of our decision-making and actions.”
The response cites another independent review, and the Safer Schools Action Plan that came out of it, as the “roots of actions and decisions”.
The response notes the government intends to get feedback from the Hidden Valley Parent Advisory Committee on the advocate office’s recommendations.
“We are confident that our new policies, protocols and capabilities for prevention, detection and reporting of serious incidents involving harm to students will better position us to safeguard the wellbeing of Yukon students,” reads the response.
“We recognize that there is still much work to be done to build back trust and to repair and restore confidence in our ability to respond to serious incidents that may arise in the Yukon’s school system.”
The response outlines steps the government has taken and timelines towards fulfilling the recommendations, such as the completion of finalizing and carrying out post-incident communication guidance and procedures, and a March 2023 timeline for developing a victim support plan and identifying materials.
Another action, estimated to be met sometime between December 2022 and March 2023, relates to creating a new inter-agency agreement between the RCMP and the departments of Health and Social Services and Education for investigating child abuse.
The Yukon Party pressed the Yukon government on the advocate’s review throughout the fall sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
“We’ve asked numerous questions about it, in part, because the report is so notable for how damning it is,” Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters following the final question period of the fall session on Nov. 24.
“It’s a deep concern to us. It was the driver for an unprecedented motion calling on the former minister [of education] to resign from cabinet or be removed from cabinet by the premier.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com