Yukon ombudsman to investigate handling of sex abuse at Hidden Valley school

The Yukon's ombudsman is launching an investigation into a complaint from a Hidden Valley parent that students and parents were treated unfairly by educational officials because they weren't informed about an educational assistant who sexually abused a student at the school.

Investigation triggered by complaint from parent alleging parents, students treated unfairly

Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. The Yukon Ombudsman is investigating a complaint from a parent alleging parents and students were treated unfairly because they weren't informed about an educational assistant who sexually abused a student at the school until 21 months after he was arrested. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

The Yukon Ombudsman is launching an investigation into whether officials with the Department of Education treated Hidden Valley Elementary School parents and students unfairly by not telling them about an educational assistant who sexually abused a student in 2019. 

Diane McLeod-McKay announced the investigation in a news release Monday.

She said the parent of a child at the elementary school alleged in a complaint to the Ombudsman that the failure of the education department to inform parents and students about the abuse until 21 months after it took place was "unfair" to families, and that the failure "meant that other alleged child victims who have since been identified did not receive the necessary parental and professional supports in a timely manner."

"A complaint of this seriousness requires me to carefully consider its merits," McLeod-McKay said in the release. "Given the fundamental need to protect the health and safety of our children in school, I am launching an Ombudsman investigation."

Her investigation, the press release said, will focus on whether students and parents "were treated unfairly by department or school officials as a result of not being informed until August 2021 about the abuse." It will also look at whether the Yukon education department "had an obligation to inform the parents or if a law prohibited this communication, including the effect of a court-imposed publication ban."

McLeod-McKay declined to comment further when contacted by CBC News. 

The press release did not provide a timeline for the investigation, but stated the complainant and education department were sent notices about the investigation on Oct. 21. McLeod-McKay will provide a report containing "any findings and recommendations" to the education department and complainant upon the completion of her investigation, and, "since the matter is in the public interest," will also issue a special report to the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

Investigation marks fourth inquiry on Hidden Valley

The ombudsman investigation will be the fourth investigation or review into both the government and police's handling of the case of William Auclair-Bellemare, a Hidden Valley educational assistant who was arrested in November 2019 for sexually abusing a student in his care. 

Auclair-Bellemare went on to plead guilty to one count of sexual interference and was sentenced to jail time, but parents were never informed about the criminal proceedings. 

The situation only became widely known after CBC News reported on a lawsuit filed in July by the 2019 victim. New alleged victims have since come forward, with Auclair-Bellemare now facing charges for allegedly sexually abusing two other students between 2014 and 2018 and another lawsuit

Officials with both the Yukon education department and Yukon RCMP have issued public apologies, with the government hiring a lawyer to review its handling of the situation beginning in 2019, and the police requesting the British Columbia RCMP's major crimes unit to review its investigation into Auclair-Bellemare. The Yukon's child and youth advocate is also conducting her own systemic review into safety and supports at Hidden Valley, with the government promising to cooperate with the process. 

In the release, McLeod-McKay acknowledged the government and child and youth advocate's review and said that aspects of her investigation "could overlap." However, she said she was "confident that my focus, together with my investigative independence and the power to compel the production of evidence, will serve the public interest at stake."

In an emailed statement, Yukon education minister Jeanie McLean told CBC News she was aware of the ombudsman's investigation and that her department would be cooperating.