Justice minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, embattled in controversy over how the Hidden Valley sexual abuse was handled, faced a vote on the legislature on Oct. 27 calling on her to resign.
“The Hidden Valley school scandal is unprecedented,” said Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers, who introduced the motion calling for McPhee’s resignation. “All MLAs in this House need to look in the mirror and search their hearts. If your child was a victim, how would you feel? How would you vote on this motion?”
All 11 of the Yukon Party and NDP representatives voted in favour of the motion, indicating they think McPhee should resign her cabinet position.
The entire Liberal caucus supported their colleague, amounting to seven votes.
McPhee left the chamber during the debate. While the motion passed, it can’t force McPhee to resign — it is merely symbolic. That decision lies with the premier. He made it clear he would not be removing McPhee from her position.
“I have full confidence in Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. She will remain in cabinet and will continue to do the important work that Yukoners have entrusted her to do,” he said. “It’s troubling to me that the majority of the legislators in the house and the opposition have decided to be judge and juror and have decided to make this decision before the facts.”
Asked if he would reconsider the decision after the government’s independent review comes forward, Silver said “when the review comes out, we will take that evidence.”
McPhee was the minister of education in 2019 when a student was sexually assaulted by an education assistant at Hidden Valley Elementary School. The perpetrator William Auclair-Bellemare was fired and eventually convicted, but the wider school community beyond the victim and his parents were never notified.
RCMP never broadened their investigation to determine if more students had been victimized.
While the department did provide McPhee with briefing material and prepared a communications strategy in 2019, according to reporting by CBC, it was never acted on. With no information from the school, even parents of children who worked with Auclair-Bellemare remained unaware of potential abuse.
In the legislature, the Yukon Party has called on McPhee to take responsibility for the decision not to inform parents.
“At the heart of our democracy is the principle of ministerial accountability. Ministers are expected to take responsibility for the actions of their department, but most importantly, they are expected to take responsibility for their own actions,” said Cathers.
The NDP have also raised concerns during the fall sitting, including calling on the government to answer questions and install a window in the sensory room at Hidden Valley Elementary School.
On Wednesday all three MLAs from the party made impassioned speeches supporting Cathers’ motion.
“This was an appallingly bad decision, and it shows that she can’t be trusted to make decisions that centre on the needs of vulnerable Yukoners,” said Emily Tredger.
Leader Kate White shared a personal story about an incident from her own life in which she was targeted and escaped from a stranger as a child at Whitehorse Elementary School. She detailed how she was supported by a school psychologist, her classmates and parents.
“I had nightmares for years — but I had access to the help that I needed,” she told the politicians in the chamber, noting that the incident was traumatic and gives her an understanding of some of what the children and parents at Hidden Valley are coping with.
She called on McPhee to resign in order to take responsibility for a mistake that left children without support for months and sent families reeling.
“It’s not personal. If it were any other person in this room, I would be saying the same thing, because as humans, we can make mistakes, but as humans, we also have to own up to those mistakes,” she said.
Liberal party members came to their colleague’s defense during debate, referring to the call for McPhee to resign as “premature.” Silver said the motion was “offensive.” He went as far as to suggest that in pursuing the issue, the opposition was jeopardizing ongoing legal cases.
Two civil lawsuits against the government have been launched by parents.
There have been four independent reviews launched into what took place at Hidden Valley and how it was handled by the government. In addition to the government hiring a lawyer to undertake a review, the Child and Youth Advocate, Yukon ombudsman and RCMP are all investigating the incident.
Silver said his government will waive cabinet confidentiality and fully cooperate with all the reviews taking place. He said the government’s review will be made public.
Contact Haley Ritchie at email@example.com