The Department of Education and the Yukon RCMP both issued abject apologies to the public this morning during a briefing on the disturbing situation at Hidden Valley Elementary School.
There has been an uproar for more than two months after it was revealed to the public that in 2020, a former educational assistant had been
convicted of a sexual offence involving a child at the school in 2019 and sentenced to a jail term.
He has since been charged with more sexual offences related to his presence at the school, and is currently free on bail.
At a joint news conference this morning, RCMP Supt. Scott Sheppard was the most vocal participant.
He said bluntly he has never seen a situation like the one involving a former educational assistant at the school allegedly committing sexual
offences on more than one child go so badly awry.
“I’m not happy to be sitting here today,” Sheppard told the media.
He said he is looking closely into the investigation and its approach to the case.
Sheppard said apparently the team failed to consider the possibility there could have been more cases involving the same educational
assistant, given his constant contact with children – and that is “inexplicable” to him.
“We should have done better. I am not pleased. I consider this a major, major error.”
There are more cases, he acknowledged, but he declined to say how many.
“I know that number,” Sheppard told reporters. “But I’m not going to reveal them.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he added. “It’s a very unusual occurrence.”
Sheppard said most of the blame falls on the RCMP and his investigating officers.
They did not need permission from the department to launch an investigation, nor did they need input from the department.
The British Columbia RCMP have been requested to review the investigation, Sheppard said.
“We should have done better,” he conceded.
On Sept. 10, it was announced that the previous day, the Yukon RCMP Specialized Response Unit had arrested William Auclair-Bellemare, 34, of Whitehorse.
He has been charged with offences related to incidents occurring between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2018.
Auclair-Bellemare has been charged with sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sexual interference and the invitation to sexual touching.
The court has imposed a publication ban on further details of the situation.
This morning’s news conference followed a meeting with the school council and families Wednesday evening that was closed to the media
and the general public.
Nicole Morgan, the deputy minister of Education, spoke on behalf of the government in the absence of Education Minister Jeanie McLean.
Morgan would only say McLean was “unavailable to attend the briefing this morning” – but she did attend last evening’s meeting at the school
“We have heard from the parents that we failed them,” Morgan said. “For that, we apologize.”
Morgan paused several times to collect herself during her remarks, apparently overcome by the severity of the situation.
As with Sheppard, she apologized for the way the department and government had handled the situation and the lack of proper
communications with parents, students and families.
“We treat this very seriously,” Morgan said.
The government did not initially reveal the situation to the parents after the first charges were laid in 2019. The parents of the child involved
have launched civil suits against the government and the offender.
Even once the situation became public over the past summer, the government refused to say much, because the “matter was before the
That line was used by the government repeatedly until today’s briefing.
Morgan also said the government will co-operate completely with a review of the situation being undertaken by Annette King, the territory’s
Child and Youth Advocate.
Initially, Department of Education officials were adamantly opposed to that review. McLean and her officials argued the advocate did not have
the authority to undertake her review.
Both Sheppard and Morgan acknowledged their respective organizations would struggle in months to come to regain the trust of the public
after the blunders in communications and otherwise.
Morgan said a list of “action items” had come out of Wednesday evening’s meeting, but she did not outline them.