Almost three months after Yukon’s Minister of Health and Social Services received a letter requesting emergency mental health support for Mayo, Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee wrote a three-page letter to the community explaining the services offered in Mayo for the past few years.
McPhee’s letter referred Mayo residents to upcoming conferences for hope, provided phone numbers for support, and referred further inquiries to an acting director and the Mayo detachment of the RCMP.
Kate White, leader of the Yukon NDP, said on Dec. 21 that the minister’s response was “disappointing.”
“I think, unfortunately, what we see in the response from the minister is just listing all the things that the government does. But what we know is, when a community says that they’re in crisis is that, what’s being offered isn’t enough,” said White.
Mayo has suffered an inordinate number of suicides, overdoses and homicides since January 2021.
Residents had drafted a clear and articulate plan that required government resources and attached the letter to the petition presented the Yukon’s Legislative Assembly on Nov. 17.
None of these items were addressed or mentioned in the minister’s response.
Earlier this month, Mayo resident Stephane Walke told the News, “The point [of the petition] was to show that people are fully aware of the breadth and complexity of the issues and that we have good suggestions, but that resources are needed.”
White observed the same thing: “Mayo very clearly said what they needed; they needed additional mental health support and additional addiction support.”
A Na-Cho Nyak Dun citizen, who asked not to be identified by the News, said the minister’s response “makes me sick.”
The first paragraph of McPhee’s letter contained an assurance that she “understands the urgency of the crises,” and that “the impacts of substance use disorder are widespread.” She offered her “condolences for anyone who is experiencing the impacts if [sic] the tragic events in your community.”
The following three paragraphs detail the services offered including hours of operation, the additional people that can be sent from Dawson City every second week, rapid access by telephone within three days, support lines and more phone numbers.
In separate paragraphs, the letter cites that the department is “working regularly with physicians to expand the scope of safe supply” and brings attention to the “significant, ongoing investments in police resources,” touting the “highest police per-capita ratio in Canada.”
Meaningful solutions and paths forward were deferred to the upcoming Mental Health and Addictions Summit in early 2022.
Only one sentence in a two-sentence paragraph towards the end of McPhee’s letter refers to anything that government could do. It states, “What we can and should do is lead, co-ordinate and prioritize conversations to commit to working together on community solutions.” It does not say how or when.
The letter and petition were not the first time that Yukon’s Liberal government had heard about the need for additional support for the community of Mayo. The first conversation was in the Liberal caucus when discussions were taking place about which Yukon communities would be hubs for mental health services, and which communities would be satellites.
Don Hutton, then MLA for Mayo-Tatchun, told the News that he had argued to locate the mental health hub in Mayo, rather than in the premier’s riding of Dawson City, citing Mayo’s far greater need and fewer services than Dawson. He lost that argument.
Two years later, Hutton resigned his Liberal membership in a fiery speech on the basis of the governments’ inaction on alcohol and drug addiction issues.
Hutton sat as an independent for the remainder of the term, never failing to remind the liberals that addictions were taking too many lives in Yukon. This year he watched as his community suffered more tragic deaths.
White believes the community was brave to ask for help.
“Mayo did the most incredible thing, which is they shook off the stigma of addiction and mental health. And they asked for help. They said that they were in a crisis, and they needed support,” White said.
“That letter (McPhee’s), it’s really hard, it’s really hard to see solutions in that letter.”
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News