The Yukon government has spent $2.5 million on settling sexual abuse lawsuits since 2000, the territory’s justice minister said in a statement Oct. 30.
The statement from Minister Tracy McPhee comes weeks after two Toronto Star stories, also published in the Yukon News, revealed that the territorial government has been quietly settling lawsuits over sexual abuse by a former school principal identified only as “J.V.” Reporter Jesse Winter uncovered at least seven lawsuits involving J.V. and found that the settlements often involved confidentiality agreements preventing the victims from talking about the settlements.
The News has since identified at least one more sexual abuse case involving another government-affiliated official settled in a similar fashion.
In the statement, McPhee said “approximately” 40 sexual assault cases have been launched against the Yukon government since 2000.
“Some cases have been dismissed or discontinued, and most have been settled.… Settlements are tailored to the individual circumstances of each case, therefore not all settlement amounts are the same.”
The payouts would include the territorial government’s payments, money paid by insurers and, in some cases, the plaintiff’s legal costs, the statement says.
The territorial government had previously told Winter — before his stories were published — that it could not disclose how many sexual abuse cases existed or how much it has spent settling them. Both the Yukon government and justice department refused to comment when the News asked why those numbers can now be shared.
The Yukon government and justice department also refused to say how many of the “approximately” 40 cases had actually been settled, dismissed or discontinued, if any cases are still active, the range of settlement payouts and how many cases, if any, were launched before 2000.
In an emailed statement, the communications director for the premier’s office said McPhee “committed to reviewing the available information and providing as much information as possible to the public.”
“The minister did so and released a statement (Oct. 30),” Sunny Patch wrote in the email. “Your additional questions require specific information that cannot be provided as that could reveal details about individual cases.”
Patch did not explain how or why telling the News the reason for the territorial government changing its position on releasing the number of sexual abuse lawsuits, or how answering any of the other questions, would “reveal details about individual cases.”
In the Oct. 30 statement, McPhee also says lawyers for the government have “never insisted on non-disclosure clauses that would prevent a victim from disclosing their personal circumstances, including any details about any abuse they suffered.”
“Our focus has always been on ensuring that the actual settlement negotiations and settlement details remain confidential. This is not to deter victims from coming forward but to encourage settlement by allowing for detailed discussions about the merits of each case by all parties,” the statement says. “We believe that coming to a settlement is always a better alternative for those involved but in particular for the victim.”
Whitehorse lawyer Dan Shier, who has been involved in J.V. cases, said he thought McPhee’s statement was a “positive step.”
“It’s a good statement, I guess.… I read through it and I don’t see anything that causes me any concern,” he said, adding that the numbers didn’t surprise him.
He disagreed, however, that confidentiality clauses “encourage settlement.”
“It just doesn’t work,” Shier said. “So what (McPhee is) saying is that they’ve never tried to stop people talking about their experience and that’s fine, that’s never been part of a confidentiality agreement that I know of.”
In an interview Oct. 31, the Department of Highway and Public Works’ business and risk manager said that while the government’s insurance policy does cover sexual abuse, it has only specifically done so since 2007 and no claims have been filed since then.
Any lawsuits and resulting settlements related to sexual abuse that occurred prior to 2007 would be handled, if at all, under whatever insurance policy the government had at the time the abuse occurred, he said, and at no time has any insurance policy dictated any mandatory confidentiality agreements.
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com