At least one parent said she is feeling optimistic about changes at Yukon schools after an apology from the Department of Education and the RCMP regarding a lack of thorough investigation into sexual assault at Hidden Valley Elementary School.
“It was unexpected. I think after the radio silence from them for so long, I wasn’t really expecting much. So with my expectations low, for them to come right out of the gate with apologies, it was really nice,” said Jennifer Kiess, whose child attended Hidden Valley during the time of the incident.
“I know we’ve got a long way to go. I think that we’re really committed to making sure that there’s a change so that this doesn’t happen again, with not being notified when there’s pedophiles in our school systems or at our daycares. We need to know about this,” she said.
Kiess was one of a number of parents who wasn’t informed that an education assistant at her child’s school had been convicted of sexual assault.
In addition to a lack of communication with the school, the RCMP also did not interview parents to find out about other potential victims until over a year later.
Both the department and the RCMP acknowledged the errors and committed to reviewing policies to avoid the situation in the future during a Sept. 23 media briefing.
According to a report by the CBC, the department drafted communications to send to parents in 2019, but never followed through on sending it out. Deputy Minister Nicole Morgan said the department struggled to balance the privacy of the victim with open communication.
Kliess said it was unfortunate that they had the ability and the preparation, but never followed through.
William Auclair-Bellemare pled guilty to sexual interference and was convicted on Jan. 18, 2021. He spent six months in prison before his release on probation.
Following media coverage of a civil case related to the assault, two more possible victims have been identified and Auclair-Bellemare is facing seven additional charges.
The department has also issued a recent letter to parents, noting that Auclair-Bellemare worked at various schools in the territory as a teacher on call and French monitor from 2008 to 2012. He also worked as a temporary educational assistant at École Émilie-Tremblay during the 2012-13 school year; and volunteered with the All City Band.
Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers said he was also glad to see an apology from the government. While Education Minister Jeanie McLean was present for the meeting with parents, she did not attend a press conference the following day.
Cathers said it should have been McLean delivering the apology.
“This shows a lack of leadership, and a failure to appreciate the seriousness of the government’s breach of trust with parents,” he said.
Kiess also said she appreciated McLean’s apology, but said many parents would also like to see an apology from Tracy-Anne McPhee, who was the education minister at the time of the conviction, but has now been shuffled to health.
The Department of Education said it will conduct a public review of its policies and protocols. The Yukon Party is calling for an independent investigation into the government’s actions.
The Yukon’s Child and Youth Advocate is also planning an independent review.
Contact Haley Ritchie at email@example.com