Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee announced on March 6 that the government will spend $442,000 per year for the next three years to fund the Historical Case Unit, which will be responsible for investigating unsolved murders and missing persons cases within the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon government funds new RCMP unit to investigate unsolved murders

The territorial government will spend $442,000 a year for the next three years to fund the unit

The Yukon government will be spending more than $1.3 million over three years to create a new RCMP unit to investigate unsolved murders and missing persons cases in the territory.

In a ministerial statement in the Yukon Legislature March 6, Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the government will spend $442,000 per year for the next three years to fund the Historical Case Unit, which will consist of three full-time officers based in Whitehorse. The unit will be responsible for investigating unsolved murders and missing persons cases and providing support to the Major Crimes Unit as needed. It will also meet with families connected to unsolved historic cases, Yukon First Nations and community groups.

“We are sensitive to the pressures put on the RCMP and other service providers due to the very unusual number of homicides that have recently occurred in the Yukon,” McPhee said in the house.

“There are currently 12 unsolved homicides that are the subject of ongoing investigations and we want these cases to be brought to conclusion. We want grieving families to be able to find answers and some peace and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

There were eight homicides in the territory in 2017, a significant spike in cases compared to previous years where the number of homicides was less than half that, if any occurred at all. The RCMP have laid charges in two of those cases so far. The first murder victim of 2018, Chelsey Tegan Bien, was killed in Riverdale Feb. 26. Her homicide has not resulted in any arrests to date.

The 12 unsolved homicides McPhee referred to in her statement date back to 2000 and are out of a total of 35 homicide investigations, but in a brief phone interview following her statement, the minister said that “any unsolved homicides in the Yukon are within the scope” of the unit.

“Obviously, 12 unsolved homicides in the last 18 years, since 2000, is completely unacceptable, but there are cases that go beyond that.… The RCMP will evaluate and prioritize the cases going forward,” she said.

The Yukon RCMP will receive this year’s funding on April 1. McPhee said that the government will be evaluating the unit as it moves forward.

The Yukon RCMP declined multiple interview requests for this story. However, in response to emailed questions, Insp. Keith MacKinnon wrote that the Yukon RCMP human resources department is “actively identifying” people to fill the three positions created for the unit. He added that the force “does have existing historical case expertise with some of its members and will leverage this until the new positions are staffed,” and that the Yukon RCMP has been in touch with other historical case units and “are working to establish best practices and protocols for the Territory.”

“Our goal is to bring these investigations to successful conclusions, and ultimately, to provide answers to the families of the victims,” MacKinnon wrote.

Following McPhee’s statement in the house, Yukon Party justice critic Brad Cathers and his party welcomed the announcement, but was critical of McPhee being “slow in acting in this area.”

“We first raised the issue of the pressure placed on the RCMP with the minister in May of last year and I raised it again through a letter written in July, recognizing that because of the recent spike in the number of homicides, it is placing an unsustainable workload on the RCMP and its members,” Cathers said.

“We do welcome this announcement, but again, we would just note that we are a bit disappointed that the minister and this government have taken a long time in responding to the pressure.”

NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she was looking forward to “the successful resolution of the work of the Historical Case Unit and of the reporting of that success to this house.”

“Each unresolved homicide — the sudden, violent death of a member of our small Yukon community — resonates deeply. Many of us are touched, whether it is directly or indirectly, in ways that we cannot or could not foresee,” she said.

“On a personal note — because these things are personal, Mr. Speaker — I hope the 12 unsolved homicides currently subject to ongoing investigation includes that of my friend and colleague who was murdered in her home near Crag Lake at the beginning of March 1992,” she said. “Her name was Krystal Senyk.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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