Max Fraser, photographed by the News in 2016, is the chair of the Friends of Many Rivers’ steering committee, an ad hoc community group that hopes to provide services similar to the defunct Many Rivers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

New group proposes taking over counselling services left empty by Many Rivers

A proposal to create a new society has been submitted to the Yukon government

An ad hoc community group has submitted a draft proposal to create a new society, one that could, depending on what plays out, eclipse Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services and provide the kind of mental health services that are now on hiatus.

“The core proposal is basically to provide services that used to be provided by Many Rivers,” said Max Fraser, chair of Friends of Many Rivers’ steering committee.

On March 25, a “founding meeting” of Community Counselling and Support Services was hosted by the group. A board was voted in consisting of 12 people, as were draft resolutions. Roughly 75 residents showed up.

The event comes days after a decision by the Yukon Registrar of Societies ordering Many Rivers to accept nine complainants as new members. There was no basis for the not-for-profit to refuse members because of incomplete application forms, Frank Pretorius found.

Conversation at the town hall strayed from the fate of Many Rivers, however.

“We’re moving on,” said Tom Amson, a member of the newly struck board. “We decided, I don’t know, two or three weeks ago that it was in our best interest to just start a new society and move forward.”

In February, following a months-long strike, unionized counsellors at Many Rivers were laid off. Many Rivers blamed the layoffs on a stoppage of funding by the Department of Health and Social Services since the organization wasn’t in good standing while the registrar investigated.

The long, meandering saga has created a vacuum. In the regions Many Rivers served — Whitehorse, Watson Lake, Dawson City and Haines Junction — services that used to be offered are not currently available.

The objective of the potential society is to reverse this.

The proposal requires the seal of approval from the Yukon Department of Community Services, which oversees the Societies Act.

A spokesperson with the department said it’s being reviewed and processed.

“When the application is accepted and filed, the registrar will issue a Certificate of Incorporation and the society comes into existence on the date shown on that document,” said Bonnie Venton Ross in a written statement.

Funding the new organization would fall to the Department of Health and Social Services.

“There are people who have been going without service for six months now,” said Ryan Cumming, a member of Friends of Many Rivers’ steering committee. “I’m sure we can all assume some not great things have resulted out of that.”

The point, he said, is to create an alternative.

“If, for any reason, Many Rivers dissolves or vaporizes, we want the government to know there’s a group that’s very capable here right now that could deliver the same service under a very similar model,” he said, adding that it’s unclear whether the society will become compliant again or, at least, in time to help people.

“It was a contingency plan,” Cumming continued. “I guess we’re more hopeful now that it’s not an if all else fails (method).”

Asked what would happen if Many Rivers started providing services again, Cumming said it’s too early to tell.

“I couldn’t tell you at this moment in time,” he said.

During the town hall, Amson read the draft resolutions out load.

One of them has to do with the purposes of the new society, which would include, he said, “timely, high quality, professional personal counselling and wellness programming throughout the Yukon to individuals, couples and families from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds; to provide an open, democratic, community-based organization that actively encourages, welcomes and involves new members; to provide a healthy workplace, where employees are appreciated, valued and supported professionally; to operate in respectful partnership with governments and other agencies and organizations.”

Everyone in the room put their hand up, it appeared, when asked to vote.

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

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