The Yukon's opposition parties say the territorial government needs to make real change in light of another report exposing the shortcomings of how it handled 2019 sexual abuse allegations at Hidden Valley Elementary School.
The report, released by the Yukon Ombudsman last week, concluded the Yukon government had an obligation to immediately inform parents about the allegations against an educational assistant at the school, but didn't.
Instead, parents only found out about the situation 19 months later, via a CBC News article on a lawsuit filed over the abuse and the criminal case beforehand. The ombudsman found the delay unfairly denied parents the chance to get immediate help and support for their children.
Yukon Party justice critic and MLA Brad Cathers, who represents the riding Hidden Valley sits in, said the report underlines how the government failed "in its legal and moral duty to parents and children." He noted it joins two reports — one by the territory's child and youth advocate, and another by a government-hired lawyer — that have "admonished the Liberal government's handling of this issue," but added there "disturbingly" continued to be "a complete absence of ministerial accountability and failure to take responsibility" for the situation.
"Apologies are not enough," Cathers said.
"People want to see the action first and foremost."
Cathers claimed "not a single person has lost their job as a consequence or even been reprimanded," and said the Yukon Party continues to believe that justice minister Tracy McPhee, who was also education minister in 2019, should resign.
As well, while there have been some "very minor" changes at Hidden Valley, like room renovations, Cathers said the education department has ignored other requests from parents and the school council like the provision of on-site counsellors and an additional vice-principal term position.
Cathers also took aim at the Yukon NDP, pointing to its confidence-and-supply agreements with the Yukon Liberals that have kept the latter in power.
While the NDP seemed "genuinely frustrated by the government's mishandling of this issue," Cathers said there was "some onus on the NDP to decide how far they will allow the Liberals to continue to go in failing Yukoners."
'The title alone speaks volumes'
Yukon NDP leader Kate White, in a separate interview, told CBC News the ombudsman's report was "scathing."
"I think the title alone speaks volumes… The report is called Left In The Dark," she said.
White said it was "telling" that the report pointed to both a government-wide communications policy that education department staff should have turned to in 2019, as well as a 2014 crisis communications manual created specifically for the department.
The report found neither was relied on in 2019 and that it was unclear whether the manual was in operational use between 2014 and 2017, something White said was "really problematic" and "would have prevented the fallout that happened."
White noted the Yukon Party was in power in 2014 when the crisis communications manual was last updated, meaning the communications issue has spanned two territorial governments.
"This is something that for whatever reason systemically just hasn't been dealt with, and so we need to see those changes," she said.
Asked about Cathers' criticism of the NDP, White said she didn't have to support the Liberals in everything they do.
"I have made a commitment, and that has brought things like a public dental plan and, you know, the rewriting of minerals legislation and an increased minimum wage … so that's the flip side," she said.
Both White and Cathers said they'll be watching for the ombudsman's second report in the fall, which will examine whether the government's Safer Schools Action Plan, developed in response to the government's own Hidden Valley review, adequately addresses the issues highlighted in the first report.
That report is expected to contain recommendations from the ombudsman, should there be any outstanding problems.
Minister wants to 'ensure that this never happens again'
Yukon education minister Jeanie McLean, in an interview on Yukon Morning, said the territorial government accepts the findings in the ombudsman's first report, and she's "anxiously awaiting" the second.
McLean would not comment on whether any education department staff have been fired or have resigned because of the role they played in the Hidden Valley situation, but she said there "have been a lot of changes in the department," including the hiring of a new deputy minister.
She also said the Safer Schools Action Plan, which the government declared fully implemented in June, had improved the department's internal communications and ensured school staff have been trained on how to respond to serious situations.
As well, McLean said she's asked the department to transition the Hidden Valley parent advisory committee, which was providing oversight and input on the Safer Schools Action Plan, to a permanent committee representing all schools. That committee will work with the department as more recommendations and work to address them arise, she said.
"I've said this all along that we all have entrusted the education system at some point in time with our children, and those spaces need to be safe," McLean added.
"I've met directly with families along the way, and I've sat in circle with them and heard their voices and cried with them, and … I continue to work hard to ensure that this never happens again."