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'Deeply concerned': CYFN, AFN call for crackdown on Yukon MLAs after crude text exchange

The Council of Yukon First Nations and the Assembly of First Nations are calling on Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon to come down harder on some MLAs who engaged in a "deplorable, abhorrent and unacceptable" text message chat over the weekend.

'An apology does not suffice in addressing this behaviour and the biases that fuel it'

Peter Johnston, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and Kluane Adamek, Yukon regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, seen here in 2019. They say the leader of the Yukon Party must do more to punish MLAs who engaged in an 'abhorrent' text exchange over the weekend. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Yukon Region are calling on Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon to come down harder on some MLAs who engaged in a "deplorable, abhorrent and unacceptable" text message chat over the weekend.

In a news release on Wednesday, both groups said Yukon Party MLAs Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko should be suspended without pay from the Legislative Assembly, and that all members of the Yukon Party should commit to anti-bullying training.

"I think we can do better as a territory when it comes to politics ... I think it's an opportunity for us to learn from it. And I really hope that we can set the bar higher this time," CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston told CBC.

The reaction comes after text messages sent by Istchenko and Hassard, among others, were made public Sunday night. The texts made crude comments about all three party leaders, including references to their genitalia.

On Tuesday, the White River First Nation, whose traditional territory falls within Istchenko's Kluane riding, called for that MLA to resign. The First Nation said it is no longer willing to work with Istchenko.

'Gender-based violence'

CYFN and AFN stopped short of demanding resignations, but did say that Dixon needs to do more to address the "misogynistic" comments made by the MLAs, and "issues of systemic violence."

Kluane Adamek, Yukon's regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told CBC that she was "deeply concerned" when she saw the text messages, especially as a woman in politics.

"It makes me wonder what really happens behind closed doors, and these comments can't be written off as anything but what it is: gender-based violence," said Adamek.

She said if people don't understand why these comments aren't OK, they need to be part of a larger conversation about this type of violence in the territory and how it is not only experienced in politics.

She also said accepting this type of behaviour sets a bad example for youth and the types of leadership they deserve to see.

"We need diverse spaces, places that welcome all voices in politics. So these comments really only serve to tell women and LGBTQ2S+ people that there's no place for them," said Adamek.

On Monday, the Yukon Party leader apologized and said the two MLAs would not sit on any legislative committees, or be assigned roles in the party's shadow cabinet.

On Monday, Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon apologized to the other party leaders for the text exchange involving MLAs from his party. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Those proposed measures "don't go far enough to reprimand the MLAs involved in such deplorable, abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour," reads the news release from CYFN and AFN Yukon.

"The removal of the MLAs from standing committees and critic roles in the shadow cabinet while still receiving full pay does nothing to penalize the MLAs."

Along with suspensions and anti-bullying training for MLAs, the organizations say Dixon should ensure that elected officials adhere to the Yukon government's respectful workplace policy, and that they receive any necessary training. 

CBC requested interviews on Wednesday afternoon with Dixon, Istchenko and Hassard, but none were available according to an emailed statement from a Yukon Party spokesperson.

"Our statement on Monday included a formal apology, as well as specific apologies from both MLAs involved, and the serious reprimands that have been issued," the email says.

It also says that Dixon had contacted Grand Chief Johnston to discuss the issue. 

With files from Julien Gignac and Elyn Jones

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