Hidden Valley School. (John Tonin/Yukon News)

Hidden Valley School. (John Tonin/Yukon News)

Review of government’s handling of Hidden Valley Elementary sexual abuse launched

A third party lawyer and mediator will oversee investigation. Parents and RCMP are also involved.

An independent review of the Yukon government’s handling of the sexual abuse of children by an employee of Hidden Valley Elementary School has been launched.

A statement on the situation was offered on Oct. 6 from both current Minister of Education Jeanie McLean and former minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, who is now the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health and Social Services. McPhee was in charge of education in 2019 when the assaults came to the government’s attention.

“In November 2019, an educational assistant at Hidden Valley Elementary School had abused a student. As soon as officials with the department of education were advised of the allegations, the individual was removed from the school and has not worked with students since that time. The Department of Education immediately referred the matter to the RCMP,” the Oct. 6 statement reads.

William Auclair-Bellemare, 34, plead guilty to sexual interference in January 2021 and spent six months in jail for the November 2019 incident. He is now out on bail, facing seven more charges relating to two more possible victims.

Parents of other students at the school were not informed of the situation at the time. At a Sept. 23 press conference, RCMP Chief Superintendent Scott Sheppard acknowledged that no attempt was made at the time to identify other potential victims. Following media attention spurred by a civil suit launched by the initial victim’s parents, further victims were identified and the additional charges were laid.

“We were respecting the RCMP process and confident that a comprehensive investigation would involve contacting additional students and parents. We now recognize that it was a mistake that other affected parents were not made aware of the situation and that steps could have been taken at that time to better inform and support families. We apologize for this and acknowledge the stress being experienced by the Hidden Valley school community. We can and will do better as we move forward,” the statement reads.

Alongside the statement of apology, details of the independent review were also released. Amanda Rogers, a lawyer, arbitrator and mediator who specializes in workplace conflict has been hired to oversee the review.

According to the government, the review will look into the government’s policies and procedures regarding reporting and communication to address serious incidents at schools. Families of Hidden Valley Elementary students and the RCMP will be involved in the review.

The Yukon Party called for an independent review in late September.

Findings and recommendations resulting from the review are expected in early 2022.

The Office of the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate has launched another investigation into the handling of the abuse at Hidden Valley.

“We will determine what the current policies are, how they were implemented, and what could be done to improve children’s rights to safety and support at school,” said Child and Youth Advocate Annette King.

After announcing their review in August, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate recommended immediate communication with affected groups and the assignment of a full-time social worker and clinical counselor to the school.

-With files from Haley Ritchie

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com