St-Onge wants a broader investigation by the commissioner into abuse in sport


OTTAWA — Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said Wednesday that the new Sports Integrity Commissioner must thoroughly investigate the toxic culture of abuse that exists in various Canadian sports organizations.

While hundreds of athletes practicing a wide variety of sports continue to denounce situations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, Minister St-Onge affirms that it is obvious that more must be done.

On leaving the weekly Liberal caucus, the minister told reporters that she wanted a public inquiry into abuse in sport and that it should be overseen by the commissioner’s office.

Ms. St-Onge’s firm is currently at the heart of the turmoil over allegations of sexual abuse against the Canadian hockey world. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Minister of Sport are both calling for major leadership changes at Hockey Canada due to its handling of the situation.

On Wednesday, Trudeau said he believes the federation’s board and leadership don’t understand the seriousness of the situation as the interim president defended the board’s decision not to demand the resignation of senior leaders.

« I can’t understand how Hockey Canada refuses to accept the reality that they no longer have the trust of parents and Canadians, » he said.

As predicted, the Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF) followed suit and also suspended the payment of its dues.

Moreover, the opposition parties in the House of Commons have put pressure on the government for its own management of the crisis. Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire has called for an independent investigation to look into the overall crisis management at Hockey Canada.

Last June, Minister Pascal St-Onge suspended federal funding for Hockey Canada and promised not to unfreeze funds until the federation committed to working with the new Sport Integrity Commissioner. .

This office was created last June by the federal government as an independent agency responsible for investigating cases of abuse in sport.

Not just hockey

Hockey is far from the only sport with abuse issues. Minister St-Onge was given the mandate for Sports a year ago, but in her first months in office, hundreds of athletes linked to at least eight sports have alleged that they were victims of abuse, mistreatment or witnesses of embezzlement.

Bobsleigh, skeleton, rowing, boxing, rugby, soccer and alpine skiing are among the list of disciplines subject to allegations.

In 2018, former skiers filed lawsuits against Alpine Canada alleging the federation covered up a sexual assault case involving a coach in order, among other things, to avoid the loss of sponsors. This lawsuit was settled out of court in 2019. The coach in question, Bertrand Charest, was convicted in 2017 of several counts of sexual assault and child exploitation. underage athletes.

More recently, last March, 70 gymnasts and former gymnasts sent a letter to Sport Canada calling for an independent investigation into the toxic culture that plagues their sport. Since then, the number of signatories has grown to more than 500 and other gymnasts continue to speak out publicly to denounce physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of coaches.

As with Hockey Canada, Minister St-Onge has cut funding to Gymnastics Canada until the federation makes a commitment to the Sports Integrity Commissioner.

She has given sports organizations until April to engage with the commissioner, but so far only five groups have done so: Volleyball Canada, the Canada Games Council, « Sport is for Life”, the Canadian Atlantic Sport Institute and Weightlifting Canada.

Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan, who was sport minister in 2018 and 2019, said in a speech at the University of Saskatchewan last month that Canada should take inspiration from the major doping scandal investigation. , in 1989, following the disqualification of sprinter Ben Johnson, who had been stripped of his gold medal at the Seoul Olympics.

Like the doping investigation, Canada must now launch “a commission of inquiry into abuse, harassment and sexual assault in sport,” believes Ms. Duncan.

« People must be heard, the extent of the problem must be revealed and recommendations must be made to allow the government to implement them, » she said.

Many of his colleagues agree. MP Chris Bittle, who sits on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage whose primary concern right now is getting to the bottom of Hockey Canada’s history, said he’s open to the idea of ​​a broader inquiry.

Family Minister Karina Gould thinks it’s « not a bad idea » to launch a public inquiry into abuse in sport.


Back to top button