Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs.
However, all said they were wondering what took so long when the signs that something was wrong were obvious from the beginning and that the Yukon government still has questions to answer.
The Yukon RCMP launched a criminal investigation into Many Rivers in February, undertaking a forensic audit as part of that. That information was only made public last week after Premier Sandy Silver mentioned it in the legislative assembly while answering a question about mental health supports in the territory.
While the news came as a surprise to many, including the leaders of the opposition parties, former Many Rivers board member Skeeter Wright told the News on Oct. 16 that he was one of two people who brought forward his concerns to police last year.
He provided a “narrative” to police — essentially, a written statement outlining what his iterations of the Many Rivers boards were and weren’t able to find out about the organization’s finances — and this year, said he was told there was a “full-blown forensic audit and that YG was cooperating.”
“I’m glad it’s being looked into and I know people that were on the board and others just in general that are glad it’s being looked into because we were very concerned about the lack of services because Many Rivers had shut down,” he said.
He added that an “awful lot of effort” had been put into trying to save Many Rivers, including meetings with Department of Health and Social Services officials where board members had brought forward concerns about the organization’s previous financial transactions.
Among them was the cashing of a $450,000 guaranteed investment certificate. The new board was unable to track where that money went or how it had been spent, or locate reports that were supposed to be filed quarterly.
“I was one of the two board members that went and met with Health and Social, I said, ‘Well, what about this? I mean, weren’t you guys tracking and realizing, da da da da da?’” Wright recalled.
“And they said, ‘Oh, we never received any of those reports.’ And it was like, ‘What? And you kept giving them money, even though they were not meeting the reporting requirements of how many clients, etc., and also the finances?’ And I just got a blank look from the three bureaucrats.”
Asked whether the Yukon government had misgivings about Many Rivers’ finances prior to 2019, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Clarissa Wall said in an email Oct. 20 that the department would not be commenting on the situation as it’s under investigation.
Unlike Wright, former board president Dena Zavier and member Frank Turner told the News they had no idea police had began looking in Many Rivers until last week.
Zavier, who learned about the forensic audit via a Facebook post, said her first reaction to the news was, “Well, it took long enough.”
“Like, ‘Why did it take so long?’ would be my question,” she said in an interview Oct. 19.
Turner said he was “elated” to learn there was a forensic audit underway as he thought the delve into the conduct of the previous Many Rivers board was “dead and over.”
“I am just totally ecstatic, over the top, it gives me new faith that there is a thing called justice,” he said.
However, he said he also believed that “somebody” needed to look at the role the government had played in allowing Many Rivers to get into the state it was in by mid-2019, describing the organization’s closure as “one of the worst and most indecent exercises of government that I have personally experienced.”
“The other thing was, where the hell was YTG over the years?” Turner asked. “This didn’t just happen in one year. They have fiduciary responsibility for the use of public funds and they are supposed to provide oversight on quarterly reports. This obviously has not been done — who was asleep at the wheel?”
Zavier said that for her, the problem at hand is larger than just Many Rivers.
“The issue is the level of mental health supports that is needed in the Yukon and the fact that it’s not there in an easily-accessible way,” she said.
“I think there needs to be a larger understanding and commitment to improving mental health, and not just in the Yukon, in the country in general. I think people underestimate the need for mental health services and how it impacts the entire country, the entire population.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org