Hidden Valley School. (John Tonin/Yukon News Files)

Lack of operational supervision to blame for botched Hidden Valley investigation: Yukon RCMP

The summary of a review conducted by an Outside RCMP detachment has been released

The following story contains details of child abuse and sexual assault. Rapid access counselling is available in the Yukon at 867-456-3838. Affected families can request support at the resources listed at the bottom of this story.

Yukon RCMP did not look for more victims while initially investigating sexual abuse at Hidden Valley Elementary School, according to an RCMP review.

The police’s operational response was reviewed by an RCMP division in British Columbia. A summary of its findings was tabled in the legislature on Oct. 19.

It is one of four reviews into the Hidden Valley investigation, which failed to inform parents that a former educational assistant at the school had been charged with sexual assault in 2019. Media reports publicized the issue in 2021, spurring a follow-up investigation and the identification of two additional victims.

In September 2021, RCMP Supt. Scott Sheppard publicly apologized for the investigation’s handling. The B.C. RCMP’s review was commissioned at that time and took over a year to complete.

The review summary says the Hidden Valley investigation lacked supervisor oversight. Decisions to collect or exclude potential evidence weren’t reported, and the direction to look for more victims wasn’t relayed to the primary investigator.

“There was a lack of documentation which made it difficult to follow the rationale for decisions,” the review says.

Further, the review insinuates that it wasn’t “clearly articulated” which investigator was accountable for which investigative steps. There’s a recommendation to clarify this on future files.

It was also found that a supervisor review of the case didn’t occur within 48 hours, breaking RCMP policy.

Reviewers also heard parents concerned that RCMP officers aren’t adequately resourced to interview children with autism and other special needs.

Several recommendations issued

The review issued several recommendations around better investigative practice and training for handling sensitive files.

Supervisors should be required to document their directions, the review suggests. The specialized response unit should also consider including written guidance on open files.

It also recommends that the specialized response unit should be the “primary investigating unit” on sensitive investigations.

Yukon RCMP officers should also be provided with training opportunities to improve accountability on sexual offence files. The division should also consider enrolling in the investigator development training available in B.C., it says.

Yukon RCMP pledges improvements

Yukon RCMP says that some improving procedures have already been implemented, and the division has already addressed “the majority” of the review’s recommendations.

RCMP says it has introduced supervisor check sheets and a “high risk review tasking system” to increase documentation and flag sexualized violence cases for closer monitoring.

Mandatory training on investigating sexualized assaults has also been introduced, the review says.

Several Yukon RCMP officers received one week of sexual assault investigation training last spring, according to an email statement from communications staff. That was instructed by the RCMP National Sexual Assault Review Team.

Online training courses on consent laws, trauma-informed approaches and “other best practices” are also mandatory for officers new to the Yukon division, the email says.

“Further training efforts are ongoing for specializing investigators in interviewing practices, such as child interviews, and victims who experience developmental or communication challenges,” the email continued.

The specialized response unit has also received a new mandate in January 2021. That unit will now be the primary investigator for sexualized violence cases involving children.

For the Hidden Valley investigation, the regular Whitehorse detachment led the file with the specialized unit’s assistance. The specialized unit then took over in 2021.

“Lack of operational supervision was the root cause of the failure to find additional victims in 2019,” says the RCMP email.

Outstanding recommendations from the RCMP review include the consideration of specific sexual assault training aids; a quality assurance review process; standardized incident reporting requirements; and consultation with the B.C. training centre for investigator development training.

The review says the outstanding recommendations have yet to be addressed by Yukon RCMP.

The Yukon government has pledged support for families affected by this incident with the following resources:

– Department of Education’s school community consultant Brenda Jenner at 867-456-6587 or brenda.jenner@yukon.ca;

– Child, Youth and Family Treatment Team at 867-456-3838;

– Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services at 867- 456-3838;

– Victim Services at 867-667-8500.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com