The Yukon RCMP offered an update into the independent review of their handling of an investigation into sexual misconduct by a staff member at Hidden Valley Elementary.
The investigation, which led to the conviction of former education assistant Wiliam Auclair-Bellemare on sexual misconduct charges involving one student at the school, was widely criticized. It was only after media reporting on a related civil case that more victims were identified and the investigation was restarted. Auclair-Bellemare now faces charges relating to alleged victims identified in the follow-up investigation.
Both the RCMP and the Yukon Department of Education admitted serious errors were made in their handling of the incident. Auclair-Bellemare was promptly removed from the school, but no attempts were made to identify other potential victims.
Both organizations pledged a review of their handling of the investigation.
On Jan. 18, Yukon RCMP Chief Superintendent Scott Sheppard provided an update on the review of the Yukon RCMP’s handling of the investigation, which is being conducted by the RCMP’s E division, based in British Columbia.
Sheppard acknowledged to reporters that the review was taking significantly longer than expected citing the quantity of documents and information that needed to be reviewed. He also said that some information, like the addresses of Hidden Valley parents and other records, had to be obtained with a court order from the Department of Education.
He said having to obtain the information by court order did create a delay, but recognized that everyone involved has concerns around privacy. Sheppard stopped short of saying the government was not cooperating.
Sheppard detailed a range of new training for officers and updates to policy and procedures relating to sexual assault investigations that were instituted both before and after the review began.
As the review proceeds, Sheppard said he has a fairly good idea of what went wrong. He suggested the failure by investigators to seek further victims and to properly document the steps they had taken may have resulted from assumptions made by the many people involved with the investigation. He said there was a failure to supervise and hold people accountable to their role as supervisors.
Sheppard said the incomplete investigation weighs heavily on him and all the other RCMP officers involved.
He described the investigation as a one-off situation when asked if a better understanding of its failures lead to a review of other past investigations.
Sheppard said police had recently met with Hidden Valley parents to provide them with an update on the review directly ahead of the Jan. 18 conference with reporters. He said he was not sure how much the E Division officers conducting the review would be engaging with Hidden Valley parents. He said that they would reach out if needed, but the reviewing officers are out to assess the initial investigation’s technical merits and failures, not reinvestigate the case.
The review of the RCMP’s handling of the investigation will be made public when it is complete. A parallel review of the Yukon government’s handling of the Hidden Valley case is also underway. Findings from the review are expected early this year.
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