Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

The Yukon government has disgraced itself

The Department of Justice must come clean about the scope of abuse settlements

What does the Yukon government have in common with the predatory movie mogul Harvey Weinstein?

As it turns out, both appear to have used confidentiality agreements to silence victims of sexual abuse in an effort to protect their public reputations.

In a damning story for the Toronto Star that appears in these pages this week, former Yukon News reporter Jesse Winter has documented a sustained effort by the territorial government to cover up incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by a former teacher.

Identified in court documents only as JV, the teacher pleaded guilty in 1987 of sexual assault and indecent assault against five children. Three were his foster children. JV’s name is kept secret by a court-ordered publication ban.

In 2007, at least six more victims began coming forward, claiming abuse at JV’s hands. Some have reached settlements with the Yukon government. Those settlements include confidentiality agreements, meaning that victims of childhood sexual abuse face the potential for financial penalties if they speak in public about what happened to them.

What’s worse, the government uses the confidentiality clauses as a convenient dodge for any kind of accountability for having employed a sexual predator. This makes Justice Minister Tracy-Anne MacPhee’s response to a question from NDP Leader Liz Hanson even more galling: “The situation in which settlement agreements come — by virtue of settlement agreements — are an agreement. All of the terms in that agreement are agreed upon by both parties.”

They have been agreed upon by both parties, but who in this relationship has the power? Certainly not the victims. Hanson said as much in the legislature on Thursday.

It is important to remember that the publication ban on JV’s identity is not the problem here. Such bans are commonplace in sexual abuse and assault trials in Canada. And with good reason: our courts have determined that the protection of the identity of victims is the utmost priority in such cases. In this instance, three of JV’s victims were foster children in his care, so revealing his identity could conceivably reveal theirs. (It is not known if these former foster kids reached settlements with the government.)

But the courts also allow victims to choose to reveal their identities to the public if they choose. What the Yukon government has done is take away that choice in exchange for cash settlements.

Lawyers and political figures in the YG have apparently decided it is more important to protect the government’s reputation than to allow JV’s victims the choice to speak publicly about what happened to them. Instead, the government has tried to wave money at the problem to make it go away. In fact, Winter reports, the government’s original response to plaintiffs who came forward in 2007 was to accuse them of negligence in not reporting abuse sooner.

Take a minute to read that last sentence again.

The government has refused to say how many victims of JV they have settled with. It has refused to say how many other victims of sexual assault perpetrated by government employees it has reached settlements with. And it has not said how much money it has paid out to victims. Answering these questions would in no way violate individual confidentiality agreements. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the YG is attempting to minimize the scope of the problem.

“Government lawyers have never been instructed to do such a thing (insist on confidentiality agreements),” McPhee said Thursday. But that is not the same as saying government lawyers have never done such a thing.

The Yukon Party, meanwhile, under whose watch these settlements were concluded, avoided the issue in question period entirely, choosing instead to hammer away at their ginned-up “airport tax” kerfuffle.

Here’s the Yukon Party’s statement on the matter: “Our office first became aware of this issue over the weekend. Our hearts go out to the victims of this sickening abuse. For questions regarding how this decision was made, please contact the Government of Yukon.” Considering there are no fewer than four former cabinet ministers in that caucus, including former Justice Minister Brad Cathers, “First we’ve heard of it,” is a statement that beggars belief.

For this, the Yukon Party should also be ashamed.

Then there’s the Justice Department’s willful misunderstanding of inquiries from the News. Again, we want to know how many cases the government has settled involving JV, how many cases of sexual abuse involving government employees other than JV it’s settled, how much money the Yukon government has paid out to victims of sexual abuse in all of these cases, and how much of that figure was covered by insurance — that’s right, the government has insurance policies against this kind of thing.

The answers to these questions are vital to the public’s understanding of the scope of the problem. We are not asking for the Justice Department for details of individual cases, yet the department is pretending we are.

All of these reactions indicate that the Yukon government and its political class are more interested in saving their own skin than any proper reckoning for the YG’s responsibility for allowing a sexual predator to prey on children.

The Liberal government may not have began these settlements but it can choose how it handles this case from now on. It can come clean with the full scope of the abuse perpetrated by JV and others (it’s hard to imagine there aren’t others). It can take a less confrontational approach in handling any future settlements with victims.

There is a precedent here: In 2011, the Nunavut and N.W.T. governments settled with 66 victims of Ed Horne, a teacher who preyed upon dozens of students in the eastern Arctic from the early 1970s to the 1980s. (Though the abuse took place before Nunavut existed, liability was split between the two governments.) The agreement, reached through an alternative dispute resolution process paid a total $15 million and included a fund for counselling and treatment.

Two things are notable about this settlement. One is that it marked a reversal of the governments’ initial — and cruel — claim that some of Horne’s victims may have consented.

The other is that we know about it.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com

child abuseYukon courtsYukon government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read