Yukon launches independent review into handling of school sexual assault case

WHITEHORSE – Yukon’s education minister says she has hired a lawyer to conduct an independent review of the government’s handling of a 2019 sexual assault investigation at Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse.

In November 2019, police were told that a student had been sexually assaulted by an education assistant and, though the staff member was quickly removed from the school, there was no attempt made to identify other potential victims.

Jeanie McLean says her department now recognizes they “made a mistake” by not informing parents of the situation and the review, by lawyer Amanda Rogers, will provide recommendations for improving government policies.

William Auclair-Bellemare, who is 34, pleaded guilty to sexual interference and spent six months in jail on charges in relation to one student.

On Sept. 10, he was charged with four sex-related counts in relation to allegations from two other students at the school.

None of the current allegations have been proven in court.

Parents at the school say they found out about the allegations in July, more than a year after the original charges were laid, when media outlets reported on a civil lawsuit brought forward against the government by a parent of the victim.

“We acknowledge there has been a breakdown in trust between families, Hidden Valley Elementary School and the Department of Education,” McLean said in a news release.

The report from the independent review is to be submitted to the government next year.

The announcement comes nearly two weeks after the RCMP and the Yukon Department of Education apologized for the handling of the investigation.

“We should have done better,“ RCMP Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard said during a Sept. 23 news conference. ”We should have been more diligent.“

The Yukon Child and Youth Advocate has also initiated a review of the Ministry of Education’s policies and actions taken after the allegations were brought forward to determine whether they followed established protocols.

“The outcome of these actions will support the healing process of the parents and families of Hidden Valley Elementary School, the broader school community, and the territory as a whole,” McLean said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2021.

— With Files from Yukon News

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