Yukon government commits to 'full review' of controversial SCAN act

The Yukon government is promising to do a “full review” of the controversial Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) Act. 

Law allows government employees to investigate drug trafficking, bootlegging and prostitution complaints

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee says it's time to review the SCAN Act because it hasn't been changed in over 15 years. The comments come as a Yukon Supreme Court case looms over whether the act is constitutional. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government is promising to do a "full review" of the controversial Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) Act. 

Tracy-Anne McPhee, minister of justice, said in December that it's time to review the act because it hasn't been done in over 15 years.

"I have committed to do that in writing, and I want to make sure that it is on the record here today," McPhee told the legislature.

As part of this exchange, NDP Leader Kate White added that the minister committed to adding a five-year review clause to this legislation. 

"I want to thank the minister for that," White said. "It's important that we all work together to make legislation stronger, and that review clause will make it stronger." 

Act to be challenged in Yukon Supreme Court case 

SCAN peace officers, employees of the Department of Justice, investigate complaints about suspicious properties that are being used for drug trafficking, bootlegging or prostitution. 

In extreme cases, officers can issue verbal or formal written warnings and work with landlords to evict those tenants.

A building facade with the words Yukon government in the forefront of a grey sky.
The SCAN act allows employees from the Department of Justice to investigate any complaints involving drug trafficking, bootlegging or prostitution at a property. In extreme cases, officers can work with landlords to evict tenants that are being investigated. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The commitment for a review from the Yukon government comes after Celia Wright, a Whitehorse mother, filed a constitutional challenge against the law in January 2021, after being given a five-day eviction notice. 

Wright's case is supported by affidavits from four non-profit Yukon organizations, who say the act disproportionately affects some of the territory's most vulnerable. 

"[The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition] is concerned that the legislation has an inequitable impact on people who are already impoverished and living precariously in situations they would not choose if they had genuine, accessible options," Charlotte Hrenchuk, co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, wrote in her affidavit. 

"Although not the intention of the legislation, it is definitely a negative consequence of the legislation and one that we have seen many times."

Aja Mason, the executive director of Yukon Women's Council, also submitted an affidavit for this case. Mason said the legislation criminalizes sex workers, whose rights to sell sex are protected under the constitution. 

Aja Mason, executive director of the Yukon Status of Women Council, said the act criminalizes prostitution - something she says breaches constitutional rights. (Submitted by Aja Mason)

"We see scan as an example of a legislative tool that was developed that blunt force and ultimately result in further stigmatization, as well as criminalization of folks who do sell and trade sex," she told CBC.

The territory tried to have the Wright case thrown out, but Yukon Supreme Court Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan decided in October that the case would go ahead. A court date has not yet been set. 

New amendments widen scope of the act

Meanwhile, the territory already opened up the Act to expand the types of crimes that their peace officers can respond to. 

McPhee said in the legislature that new amendments, passed in December, will let her department's safer communities and neighbourhoods unit (SCAN unit) investigate more crimes, like sexual exploitation against children. 

"This government sees the amendments before us today as necessary changes that respond to changing criminal and social dynamics here in the Yukon," McPhee continued. 

The department should be ready to start its review of the SCAN act by 2023. 


  • A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Celia Wright.
    Jan 05, 2022 10:44 AM CT