Sports abuse investigation must extend beyond hockey, says committee

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The House of Commons committee investigating abuse in sport will meet again next week to determine how to expand its investigation beyond Hockey Canada.

MPs on the committee say their investigations must find a way to hold all sports organisations, coaches and athletes accountable for inappropriate and abusive behaviour.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle, one of 12 regular members of the Canadian Heritage committee, said the departure of Hockey Canada’s president and board on Tuesday was necessary, but that that alone « does not replace a change in culture ».

The committee launched its investigation into Hockey Canada in June, after discovering that the organization had settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged that eight members of the 2018 National Junior Team sexually assaulted her after a Hockey Canada gala in London, Ontario.

Mr. Bittle added that the focus now needs to be on how to fix what is wrong, not only at Hockey Canada, but also on the deep cultural issues that were overlooked when medals and glory were at stake. Game.

« We can look to see if there are any organizations that put athletes on such pedestals that there are no consequences for their actions, including this case that led to our investigation where there doesn’t appear to be any consequences, » Mr. Bittle said in an interview.

Hockey Canada officials told the committee in June that they learned of the alleged assault the day after the London gala, but that an internal investigation was unable to identify the players involved and that no disciplinary action was taken.

“Why wasn’t there someone to say, ‘There are some people who shouldn’t wear the maple leaf on their chest to represent Canada’? asked Mr. Bittle. If there are no consequences for coaches and athletes in terms of conduct, it will be worse.”

NDP MP Peter Julian noted that Hockey Canada’s leadership overhaul does not change « the fundamental issues around how Hockey Canada deals with these horrific allegations of sexual violence, deals with sexual abuse, deals with victims. »

Getting to the bottom of this should be a priority for the committee, but these questions needed to be asked of many other sports organisations, according to Mr Julian.

« It’s not just Hockey Canada that doesn’t take issues of athlete protection and public protection seriously, » he said. So there is still a lot of work to do for our committee.”

The committee normally meets on Tuesdays and Fridays when the House of Commons is in session and Mr Julian expects the first meeting next week to be devoted to discussing the direction of the investigation and the witnesses who have yet to be called. called.

« I think it’s fair to say that everyone on the committee understands that this goes beyond hockey, that this is a crisis in national sports organizations, » Julian said. And I expect that we will continue the hearings and expand that mandate on that basis.”

Allegations of psychological, physical and sexual abuse have arisen in several sports in Canada in recent years, including rowing, boxing, rugby, skiing and soccer.

Hundreds of gymnastics and bobsleigh athletes signed open letters in March calling for independent investigations into abuse and toxic environments. Both letters suggest the athletes were afraid to speak out earlier for fear of being punished and excluded from national and Olympic teams.

In 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Alpine Canada by former skiers who said the organization covered up sexual abuse by a coach in part to avoid a loss of sponsorships.

Mr. Julian clarified that the problem is not only that sports organizations allow toxic environments, but also that the federal government has done nothing to stop it.

“The federal government has left national sports organizations to manage themselves without oversight, without any obligation, and that must fundamentally change,” insisted Mr. Julian.

It’s starting to change. Sports Minister Pascale St.-Onge suspended federal funding for Hockey Canada and Gymnastics Canada earlier this year when allegations of abuse were raised.

It is revising contribution agreements so that sport organizations must demonstrate accountability, transparency and commitment to safe sport in order to receive federal funds.

To secure funding next year, all sports organizations must register with the new Sports Integrity Commissioner, who was hired in June to implement a « Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Corruption ». mistreatment in sport”.

For now, only two national federations have registered: Volleyball Canada and Weightlifting Canada.

In its first three months of operation, the Integrity Commissioner’s office received 24 formal complaints, but two-thirds involved members of sports organizations who had not yet signed on to the process.

Only six of the complaints were deemed admissible under the commissioner’s jurisdiction.


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