Physical, psychological and sexual abuse issues: ‘Difficult and disappointing’ that gymnasts weren’t heard

Quebecer Alexandra Landry finds it « very difficult and disappointing » that the first call for help from Canadian gymnasts addressed to the federal Minister of Sports, Pascale St-Onge, seven months ago, did not receive the response that they wished.

• Read also: After Hockey Canada, Ottawa freezes Gymnastics Canada funds

On Wednesday, 500 people gravitating in this sporting field, including Landry, a former gymnast, sent a second open letter to the minister.

Alexandra Landry, former gymnast who is on the list of signatories of the letter denouncing abuse in gymnastics.

Photo archives, Pierre-Paul Poulin

Alexandra Landry, former gymnast who is on the list of signatories of the letter denouncing abuse in gymnastics.

In it, they ask him to take the appropriate measures to eliminate the problems of physical, psychological and sexual abuse that undermine their sports environment, and in particular Gymnastics Canada.

They are also asking the minister to launch an independent judicial inquiry.

« The lack of an adequate response sends a signal to us that these voices do not matter and that their experiences do not deserve change, » the gymnasts lamented in their letter, a copy of which was first obtained by the CBC.

“Their voices are too loud to ignore and so far their courage has not led to concrete actions from your office,” they also wrote.

The group of signatories believes that the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, recently set up by Ms. St-Onge’s department, is not totally independent.

This is funded by Ottawa. A fact that the Minister defended on Wednesday in a press scrum, while describing as “heartbreaking” and “disturbing” the stories from the Canadian gymnastics community.

» Yes [le programme]is funded by the federal government, just like any court of law, but it remains an independent entity,” assured Ms. St-Onge.

Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge

Archival photo

Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge

« It’s part of the solution, » she added. This gives athletes a place to report cases of abuse and mistreatment. »

1000 calories per day

In April, Alexandra Landry told the Log the physical and psychological abuse she says she suffered while on Canada’s rhythmic gymnastics team.

Alexandra Landry

The Montrealer had explained that she had been criticized about her weight by a trainer whose name she preferred to keep silent.

« I did what was asked of me, » she explained. I wanted to do everything to lose weight. I’ve been on a 1000 calorie a day diet [moins de la moitié de ce qui est recommandé pour une femme]. »

Landry said the abuse peaked when the coach hit her in front of all her teammates after she made a mistake during a competition.

The one who retired from sport after the London Olympics in 2012, regrets that the first letter has not yet “received a response” from the ministry.

« It’s difficult for athletes to share their experience, » said the elderly woman in her late twenties on Wednesday. For me, it was hard. When we talk about these situations, we relive negative moments, things we tried to forget. »

« The urgency to act »

Landry added that athletes « still experience these situations » and that the second letter also aims to reiterate « the urgency to act ».

« It’s another way of showing how much we need change and that we still receive, to this day, other denunciations of abuses that are happening in our sport, » she said.

Like the other signatories, Landry explained that he feared cases of “conflict of interest” if the investigation is carried out by an entity like the Office of the Commissioner for Integrity in Sport.

« The important thing is to have an investigation that takes place outside the sporting world, by experts, » she said.

– With QMI Agency

Not in the Shadow of Hockey Canada

If several Canadian sports federations, including Gymnastics Canada, have been splashed by scandals of abuse or mismanagement in recent months, none has made the headlines as much as Hockey Canada.

This is of course a totally different case. The organization has come under fire for settling various sexual assault claims against its players, including one for a gang rape that allegedly occurred in 2018.

Its officials had to testify in parliamentary committee. Faced with political pressure, but also financial – many sponsors have severed their ties with the federation – its chief executive Scott Smith has submitted his resignation.

Board members who had not already jumped ship also announced that they were stepping down.

look in depth

At Gymnastics Canada, it is abuses allegedly committed by people in positions of authority that are mostly denounced.

And at Rugby Canada, for example, an independent report published in the spring described a “culture and leadership vacuum”.

As publicized as it is, the Hockey Canada scandal has not overshadowed athletes from other Canadian federations who are asking for help, says former Quebec gymnast Alexandra Landry.

On the contrary, she said on Wednesday.

“Yes, it takes up space, but it allows us to take a deeper look at what is happening within other sports organizations in Canada. »

« We understand that the same situation is happening in other sports, » she continued. We are here to support other athletes. »

Sexual gestures and humiliation

Landry adds that gymnastics is a different sport.

“These are athletes who start very young and are very vulnerable,” she explained.

The letter sent to the Minister of Sports Pascale St-Onge on Wednesday also mentions a list of abuse suffered by young gymnasts, which would have been sent to his office in June.

It is about « children publicly humiliated », « sexually abused », « forced to train despite injuries », « deprived of food » or « verbally and psychologically abused », reported the CBC.

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