WHITEHORSE — Yukon's ombudsman said in a new report Thursday the territory's government had a policy and legal duty to notify parents at a school where a child was sexually assaulted, but instead delayed revealing the information for 19 months.
Ombudsman Jason Pedlar and investigator Rick Smith concluded in the report that the delay in telling parents at Hidden Valley Elementary School was unwarranted and unfairly denied them an opportunity to take steps to help their children.
The investigation found the Yukon government "did an about-face" and shared information with parents on the case in August 2021 only after CBC published a report weeks earlier about a civil lawsuit alleging an education assistant had sexually assaulted a student.
The education assistant pleaded guilty to sexual interference in late 2020 and was sentenced in January 2021, months before parents learned of the criminal charge.
In a written response, Yukon Education Minister Jeanie McLean said the results are "aligned" with the findings of lawyer Amanda Rogers' independent investigation, and McLean acknowledged the territory mishandled the incident.
McLean hired Rogers to conduct the independent report in October 2021, one of four separate assessments on Yukon's mishandling of the case, including the ombudsman's review, and probes by the RCMP and the child and youth advocate.
Police were told in November 2019 that a student had been sexually assaulted by an education assistant, who was quickly removed from the school without any attempt made to identify other potential victims.
The ombudsman's report says it was the CBC story 19 months later that prompted the notification from the Education Department.
"The Department did an about-face and began sharing information about the sexualized abuse of a school student because the … matter went public in the media and the department found itself unexpectedly having to react to the result," the report says.
"If it were not for the media story, we are of the view that the department would likely have maintained its silence about the … matter, thus perpetuating the unfairness of depriving the parents from taking any timely action concerning their children and also withholding information that, once released, directly led to two more disclosures of criminal behaviour."
The report said it is withholding any recommendations until the second part of its review, which will be released in the late fall, and is assessing Yukon's new Safer Schools Action Plan, which was recommended in the Rogers report.
McLean said the plan will show the "significant actions" Yukon has taken to prevent similar cases from happening again.
"We acknowledge that more should have been done to inform parents and to support students and their families following the incident," she said. “We are learning from our mistakes. We are implementing real changes to minimize the likelihood that incidents like these take place in the future."
In a written response, the Opposition Yukon Party said the lack of any personnel changes in cabinet or in the departments and organizations involved in the Hidden Valley case shows a lack of accountability on the part of the Liberal government.
"Despite the government failing in its legal and moral duty to parents and children, not a single person has lost their job as a consequence or even been reprimanded," said Lake Laberge MLA Brad Cathers. "This is an ongoing failure of leadership by the Liberal government, and the premier."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.
The Canadian Press