Crude-texting Yukon Party members will receive anti-bullying training, leader says

Two members of the Yukon Party who engaged in a vulgar text chat about some of their political opponents will receive anti-bullying and anti-harassment training, their party leader says.

Politicians apologized and were barred from legislative committees and shadow cabinet

Yukon Party MLAs Stacey Hassard, left, and Wade Istchenko, who engaged in a vulgar text exchange that became public over the weekend, will attend anti-bullying and anti-harassment training, their party leader says. (CBC/Yukon Party)

Two members of the Yukon Party who engaged in a vulgar text chat about some of their political opponents will receive anti-bullying and anti-harassment training, their party leader says.

The Yukon Party has been in damage-control mode since the text chat involving Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko — both former cabinet ministers — was made public earlier this week.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon apologized earlier this week, and barred the two members of the Legislative Assembly from legislative committees and his party's shadow cabinet.

On Thursday, Dixon responded to mounting pressure to further punish the MLAs, and said they would be enrolled in training and education programs.

"We're going to look at the options that are available for that training and that education, and we're aware of a number of programs that exist now. But we want to make sure that we find the ones that are most appropriate for the situation," Dixon said.

"Both MLAs are sincere in their commitment to learn from this incident and to understand the issues better."

Dixon said his party will also develop a respectful workplace policy that will apply to all MLAs, party staff and volunteers.

'Blatantly transphobic'

The text exchange involved Hassard, Istchenko and several others. The Liberal Party made the chat public, saying that Premier Sandy Silver appeared to have been inadvertently included in the group discussion.

The texts made crude comments about all three of Yukon's political party leaders, including references to their genitalia.

The White River First Nation, in Istchenko's Kluane riding, asked their MLA to resign, while other Indigenous groups urged Dixon to come down harder on both MLAs for their "abhorrent" behaviour and the "systemic violence" behind their offensive comments.

Queer Yukon, a local advocacy group, issued a statement on Wednesday calling the MLAs' text exchange "blatantly transphobic" and "dehumanizing" with its focus on genitalia.

Mona Luxion, president of Queer Yukon, also said Thursday that the issue goes beyond those particular comments. Luxion referred to a "mismatch" between the party's public face and its less-public discourse.

The Yukon Party actively campaigned this spring on a platform of inclusiveness, Luxion said.

A transgender pride crosswalk in downtown Whitehorse in 2018. Queer Yukon says the MLAs' text exchange was transphobic and 'dehumanizing.' (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"I think it's really disappointing to see these kinds of comments coming less than a month after that commitment was made public," they said.

"There seems to be a disconnect between what we're hearing from the leadership and what we can see with our own eyes."  

MLAs keeping quiet

Neither Hassard nor Istchenko have spoken publicly about their texts, beyond brief written statements of apology earlier this week. Dixon said Thursday that he had not muzzled the MLAs.

CBC has made multiple requests to speak with the MLAs directly, and they have not been available.

Dixon said it's his job as party leader to try to mend relationships.

Luxion acknowledged that Queer Yukon got a "prompt response" from Dixon, who told them he shared the group's concerns and offered to meet.

Dixon also said Thursday that he was planning to speak to Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, who had called for harsher penalties for the MLAs, including suspensions without pay.      

"It falls to me to engage with these these groups," Dixon said.

"We'll find a path forward to build those relationships. I mean, ultimately, you know, we'll need to work together to move forward from this."

'It falls to me to engage with these groups,' said Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon on Thursday. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Neither of the MLAs will be allowed to sit on any legislative committees or have critic roles in the party's shadow cabinet, which was just announced ahead of the next Assembly's first sitting.

Their salary won't be docked, Dixon said.

"Myself, or the Legislative Assembly, doesn't have the ability to to restrict pay, so as far as I understand there'll be no changes to the way they're paid." 

Asked whether the texts reveal larger systemic issues in his party, Dixon avoided a direct answer.

"Two MLAs made inappropriate and offensive comments and they should be reprimanded for it, they should apologize for it, and they should try to learn from it and move forward," he said.

"And that's what I think has happened here."

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Jackie Hong and Dave White