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Premier Handley reprimanded
for sex abuse comments

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 03/06) - Premier Joe Handley took a drubbing in the legislative assembly Wednesday as nine regular members voted to censure him over his comments on a sex abuse lawsuit filed against the territorial government.

"This has been a very difficult motion to bring forward because the premier is well liked across the territories and on this side of the floor," said Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Robert McLeod, who brought forward the motion to censure.

NNSL Photo/graphic
Premier Handley

"I know this whole episode has bothered Mr. Handley, but you take that and multiply it tenfold and that doesn't even come close to what those (people who suffered at residential school) had to go through."

A motion of censure is the strongest public condemnation of a member that can be made by MLAs, short of demanding the member resign.

The controversy stemmed from a Sept. 22 Canadian Press story that quoted the premier as questioning the validity of some sex abuse claims filed against Pedophile Ed Horne, who taught in several eastern Arctic communities in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the story, Handley also suggested the possibility victims who were over 14 may have consented to sexual contact with the teacher.

A lawsuit was filed by 71 former students who are seeking damages from the governments of Nunavut and NWT over allegations of sexual abuse by Horne. The former teacher was convicted on 20 counts of sexual assault in 2000 and is now facing 15 new charges.

The governments paid $21.5 million in 2002 to settle a lawsuit filed by 82 men who accused Horne of abusing them. In an Oct. 27 letter to the territorial government, Yellowknife Inuit Katujjiqatigiit president Iga Atagootak and director Deborah Tagornak asked not only that Handley resign, but that the government drop its defense against the victims' lawsuit.

"(We) would like to push as much as possible for the legal defense to be withdrawn," the women wrote.

While Handley apologized for his remarks on Sept. 29, McLeod said MLAs would be remiss if they did not attempt to censure the premier for his remarks.

"This motion is about holding the premier accountable for his remarks and holding ourselves accountable," McLeod said. "It's not about us and not about me, it's about showing support for survivors of residential schools."

Handley accepted responsibility for his actions.

"I'll say again I'm genuinely sorry for my remarks, it was a fundamental error in judgment and as an experienced politician, I should've known better," said Handley. "I hope that the victims of sexual abuse and all people of the NWT and Nunavut accept my apology."

Handley added he hoped his record of public service both as a minister and premier was taken into account.

Speaking to the second part of the motion that supports victims of sexual abuse, the premier said he and cabinet were committed to working with other members to support victims of sexual abuse.

Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee said the censure would send a message that MLAs do not accept the premier's statements. Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen went a step further, saying the premier's comments had shaken her confidence in him.

Nahendeh MLA Bobby Villeneuve backed the motion because it would indicate regular members' support for victims of sexual assault.

"It's not for the fact I didn't believe the premier was sincere in his apology," said Villeneuve. "I support this motion for the simple fact is that I want to let NWT residents know that we defend the rights of sexual abuse victims in the NWT."

Handley and the rest of cabinet abstained from voting. Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya and Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger were absent from the house during the vote.