Former Many Rivers board member Skeeter Wright, photographed in 2016, says that mental health services will not be reinstated so long as the society continues to carry debt. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Former board member worries Many Rivers could drown in debt

Skeeter Wright says the new board won’t be able to pay debts left by its predecessor

A former board member with Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services says mental health services will not be reinstated so long as the society continues to carry debt.

In an open letter sent to the deputy minister of health and social services and the registrar of societies, Skeeter Wright, who recently resigned, says more than $175,000 is owed — and it continues to grow.

He says the new board of directors was told by the deputy minister that it’s responsible for paying the debt back, despite being inherited from the preceding board.

The debt caused “the society to fall out of compliance with the Societies Act, coupled with what appears to be gross financial mismanagement and potentially criminal behaviour by the previous board and executive director,” Wright says in the letter.

“While there is some question as to the Yukon government’s possible negligence in monitoring the previous board’s finances and services management, the new board is being held liable and is not able of secure funds to pay the debt. If the debt is not paid, the society cannot continue and cannot assist those seeking mental health services and support.”

Patricia Living, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, confirmed that the board is liable for paying off the debt. She says Many Rivers is currently compliant with the Societies Act.

“The liability does not cease when old board members leave and new ones come on board,” she said. “They assume the liability. This is standard. We have asked the board to provide government with a plan on how it plans to repay the debts. Government is unable to pay the debt on behalf of the organization.”

Wright told the News that health and social services officials know the society doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to take care of the debt.

“I’m saying there’s no potential revenue to pay the debt because they’re the funder,” he said.

“I don’t see how the society could sign a contribution agreement with health and social to provide services, unless that debt is paid off. No one’s gonna give money to a society to pay off its past debts … except, potentially, health and social services.”

Wright says in his letter that his efforts to help Many Rivers provide services again have been squandered.

“I say wasted because basically the rug’s been pulled out from under the society. There’s no potential to go forward if the past debt is not gonna be addressed by health and social,” he said.

Many Rivers has not been offering services for nearly one year — first because counsellors were on strike, then later when a lack of funding meant those same counsellors were laid off.

The society fell out of synch with the Societies Act when the former board failed to file annual paperwork, causing it to lose its government funding.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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