Some Hidden Valley parents disappointed after 2nd meeting with Yukon gov't on sex abuse scandal

Several parents who attended the Nov. 9 online meeting say they feel it prioritized government officials and didn't leave enough time for parents to speak or ask questions. They also say they didn't get the answers they were hoping for.

'I feel worse about the situation,' one parent told the CBC

Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. Some parents who attended a virtural meeting on Tuesday hosted by the government say they're disappointed with how it went. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

Several parents who attended a virtual meeting with Yukon government officials about a sexual abuse scandal surrounding Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse say it left them more disappointed and disillusioned than before. 

One parent described the Tuesday meeting on Zoom as a "complete clusterf—k," while another said it was a "s—show."

"I feel worse about the situation," parent Jorn Meier told the CBC on Wednesday.

According to Meier, the meeting started half an hour late due to technical issues and was originally launched as a webinar, which would have kept the approximately 50 or so parents in attendance in "listen-only" mode unless unmuted by a host.

"When you care about a meeting, you set it up so it will work," Meier said. 

"Setting up the meeting that first didn't work to begin with, then was set up to be very controlling of the information … I think that set the tone of the meeting and then it went downhill from there."

The meeting was eventually switched to "meeting" mode, which allows for participation from all attendees, after a number of parents threatened to leave and objections from both an elder who delivered the opening prayer as well as Jeanie McLean, the education minister. 

It was the second meeting hosted by the government to address a situation involving a Hidden Valley school educational assistant who sexually abused a student in 2019 and now stands accused of abusing two more.

The case has triggered outrage from Hidden Valley school parents, many who didn't know about the situation until the CBC reported on a lawsuit filed by the 2019 victim this summer. It's also become a political landmine for the Yukon government, with the issue dominating question period during the first week of the Legislative Assembly's fall session and the majority of MLAs recently voting for Tracy McPhee, deputy premier, who was education minister in 2019, to resign. 

'We've waited long enough'

McPhee, McLean and Nicole Morgan, deputy education minister, were among the Yukon government officials who attended the Tuesday meeting. 

Yukon RCMP Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard was also in attendance, as was government-hired lawyer Amanda Rogers, Yukon Ombudsman Diane McLeod-McKay and Annette King, Yukon child and youth advocate. The latter three are all conducting reviews or investigations into the government's handling of the situation. 

Another parent, whose child's identity is covered by a publication ban and whom the CBC is not naming to avoid identifying the child, said she approached the idea of a second meeting with an open mind. 

However, she said her hope began to wane when parents received an agenda for the meeting, which she thought prioritized giving government officials time to speak. 

She said then she became "enraged" when the Education Department sent out a digital booklet entitled Hidden Valley meeting: Making it right shortly before the meeting. The document outlines "frequently asked questions'' and also contains several pages on various mental health and victim supports, as well as a draft policy for school administrators on "post-incident communications to parents/guardians." 

The parent described the booklet as "offensive" and "not in line with what we had as our expectations for this meeting," particularly because it offered a definition for "publication ban" on the first page and seemed to dictate the structure of the meeting instead of allowing parents to decide.

She added McPhee's "defensive" approach to parents only "solidified" her belief that McPhee as well as deputy education minister Morgan should resign. 

"I believe that their inaction caused significant harm and trauma to children and their families… It continues to cause harm every day," she said.

Parent Robert Ryan said that while he found statements provided by the RCMP and people conducting reviews into the situation sincere, he was frustrated by what he saw as deflection from education officials when questioned by parents.

"Again, [they told us] 'Wait for the review, wait for the review.' I think that they're just kicking the can down the road — it's a tactic," Ryan said. 

"Why can't they tell parents, straight, what's going on? Why can't they just give the answer there and then? Why isn't it in the public's interest and the parents' interest to know what went on and why can't they give the answer?" 

Jennifer Kiess told the CBC she felt the same.

"We've waited long enough," she said. 

"It's not like we're asking for miracles to be performed, but people need to know that changes are starting to happen and if tomorrow, another situation like this came out … there's no reason that I would have confidence knowing that they would deal with it in any different manner." 

Department handled abuse allegation 'in house'

Several parents also told the CBC that they were surprised and still processing a piece of information Sheppard gave when recounting the RCMP's timeline of events to date — that there was an abuse allegation at the school between 2014 and 2016, but that education officials had opted to handle the matter "in house." 

Sheppard, according to parents, also said the RCMP received a report about alleged abuse after that but were erroneously told by education officials it was the same incident reported between 2014 and 2016 when, in fact, the complaint involved a different child.

The Yukon RCMP, in response to a request for further information from the CBC, declined to comment, citing ongoing court processes.