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The Yukon government has spent $2.5 million settling sexual abuse cases since 2000

‘Approximately’ 40 cases have been launched against the government since 2000, justice minister says

Gabriel Smarch near the bluffs overlooking McIntyre Creek, outside Whitehorse. He says, when he was eight years old, he was sexually assaulted by the principal of his elementary school.

JESSE WINTER / TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE Order this photo

Gabriel Smarch near the bluffs overlooking McIntyre Creek, outside Whitehorse. He says, when he was eight years old, he was sexually assaulted by the principal of his elementary school.

The Yukon government has spent $2.5 million on settling approximately 40 sexual abuse lawsuits since 2000, the territory’s justice minister revealed in a statement.

The statement from Justice Minister Tracy McPhee comes weeks after two Toronto Star stories, also published in the Yukon News, revealed that the territorial government has been quietly settling lawsuits over sexual abuse by a former school principal identified only as “J.V.” Reporter Jesse Winter uncovered at least seven lawsuits involving J.V. and found that the settlements often involved confidentiality agreements preventing the victims from talking about the settlements.

Tracy McPhee, a former Yukon ombudsman and privacy commissioner, released a statement saying the Yukon government has spent $2.5 million on settling approximately 40 sexual abuse lawsuits since 2000.

Joel Krahn/Yukon News

Tracy McPhee, a former Yukon ombudsman and privacy commissioner, released a statement saying the Yukon government has spent $2.5 million on settling approximately 40 sexual abuse lawsuits since 2000.

The Yukon News has since identified at least one more sexual abuse case involving another government-affiliated official settled in a similar fashion.

“Some cases have been dismissed or discontinued, and most have been settled.… Settlements are tailored to the individual circumstances of each case, therefore not all settlement amounts are the same,” McPhee said.

The payouts would include the territorial government’s payments, money paid by insurers and, in some cases, the plaintiff’s legal costs, the statement says.

The territorial government had previously told Winter — before his stories were published — that it could not disclose how many sexual abuse cases existed or how much it has spent settling them.

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The Yukon government and justice department declined to comment on how many of the “approximately” 40 cases had actually been settled, dismissed or discontinued, if any cases are still active, the range of settlement payouts and how many cases, if any, were launched before 2000.

In an emailed statement, the communications director for the minister’s office said McPhee is “committed to reviewing the available information and providing as much information as possible to the public.”

In the Oct. 30 statement, McPhee said lawyers for the government have “never insisted on non-disclosure clauses that would prevent a victim from disclosing their personal circumstances, including any details about any abuse they suffered.”

“Our focus has always been on ensuring that the actual settlement negotiations and settlement details remain confidential. This is not to deter victims from coming forward but to encourage settlement by allowing for detailed discussions about themerits of each case by all parties,” the statement says. “We believe that coming to a settlement is always a better alternative for those involved but in particular for the victim.”

Whitehorse lawyer Dan Shier, who has represented clients in cases involving J.V., said he thought McPhee’s statement was a “positive step.”

He disagreed, however, that confidentiality clauses “encourage settlement.”

“It just doesn’t work,” Shier said. “So what (McPhee is) saying is that they’ve never tried to stop people talking about their experience and that’s fine, that’s never been part of a confidentiality agreement that I know of.”

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