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Gov't went to RCMP with concerns over Many Rivers finances, minister says

Social Services Minister Pauline Frost says officials from her department met with RCMP about questionable finances of the now-shuttered Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services.

'The third-party audit did not find criminal behaviour. Simply put, it was poor management'

Yukon Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said there were questions about finances at the non-profit Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services, and officials took those to police. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Yukon's Health and Social Services Minister says officials from her department went to police with concerns about the finances of the now-shuttered Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services — and that RCMP decided there wasn't enough information to launch an investigation.

Minister Pauline Frost said in the Yukon Legislature on Thursday that a third-party audit of the non-profit raised questions, and that's when the government went to police.

"We brought the information forward to the RCMP, and they said they would require more information related to criminal wrongdoing," Frost said.

"The third-party audit did not find criminal behaviour. Simply put, it was poor management."

In a clarification email later on Thursday night, Frost explained that the results of the third-party review were not shared with police. She also walked back her earlier comments that suggested RCMP had done an investigation.

"The initial concerns brought to our attention by the acting executive director [of Many Rivers] were shared with the RCMP. We are currently reviewing legal options moving forward," the statement reads.

The opposition NDP has been peppering Frost with questions over Many Rivers, saying a forensic audit should be done on the defunct organization.  

The now-closed Whitehorse office of Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"There've been very credible concerns about financial mismanagement occurring at Many Rivers prior to its closure," said MLA Liz Hanson in the legislature on Thursday.

"What is not clear is what action was taken [by government], and when."

Last payment to Many Rivers

Hanson again asked about the last government payment made to Many Rivers last year, just before workers there went on strike. That half-million dollars was still unaccounted for, Hanson said. 

The strike lasted 11 weeks, but it marked the beginning of the end for Many Rivers. After the strike, staff were laid off, the organization lost its government contract, and ultimately closed shop.

As of Thursday, the Many Rivers Society had not been officially dissolved, and was considered in default of the Societies Act. Government spokesperson Bonnie Venton Ross said the organization's debts and liabilities prevent it from voluntarily dissolving. That would be up to the territory's Registrar of Societies. 

An eviction notice posted on Many Rivers' Whitehorse office says the organization owes $25,101.44 in unpaid rent.

There's an eviction notice posted on the door of Many Rivers' shuttered Whitehorse office. It says the organization owes more than $25,000 in unpaid rent. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

'There will be no forensic audit': Frost

Frost confirmed that Many Rivers received funding last October, and that the government has not yet received audited financial statements about that money. 

"Many Rivers had submitted reports that indicate the money was spent on areas related to legal fees, rent, minimal operations, staff and professional development, but that has not been verified," Frost said in an email to CBC on Thursday afternoon, before issuing her clarification later that night.

Frost also said Thursday there would be no forensic audit of Many Rivers, despite the NDP's call for one. She said the earlier financial investigation determined it wasn't necessary.

"There is no forensic audit, and there will be no forensic audit," Frost said.

Speaking to reporters, NDP Leader Kate White said she wasn't satisfied.

"If the Yukon government called on a forensic audit, they would understand what had happened to that money," White said.

White was also asked about Frost's reluctance to say when, or if, the details of the third-party financial investigation would be released.

"Welcome to my world," White said.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story reported that Minister Frost said RCMP had investigated the finances of Many Rivers and found no criminal wrongdoing. Frost later clarified in an email to CBC that RCMP decided there wasn't enough information to launch an investigation.
    Oct 25, 2019 11:48 AM CT

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Chris Windeyer and Jane Sponagle

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