Former Canadian Olympic skier Allison Forsyth poses for a portrait in Toronto on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Amid a reckoning in the NHL and mounting allegations of abuse and harassment in university sports, athletes are renewing a call for an independent body to probe complaints and oversee a universal code of conduct. Former Olympic skier Allison Forsyth says that if such a body had existed in the late 1990s, it likely could have prevented her alleged abuse by coach Bertrand Charest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Donovan

Hockey reckoning amid renewed call for independent body to probe abuse

Former Olympic skier Allison Forsyth says if such an organization had existed in the late 1990s

Amid a reckoning in the NHL and mounting allegations of abuse and harassment in university sports, athletes are renewing a call for an independent body to probe complaints and oversee a universal code of conduct.

Former Olympic skier Allison Forsyth says if such an organization had existed in the late 1990s, it likely could have prevented her alleged abuse by coach Bertrand Charest.

“I didn’t have a safe place where I felt like I could report,” she says. “I was never even trained on sexual abuse or harassment in sport. I didn’t even know what signs to look for.”

Athletes and experts say the current model of self-regulation, in which sports organizations have designated third-party officers who handle complaints, isn’t working. Many athletes fear retribution or inaction from organizations that may have an interest in protecting coaches or their own reputations, they say.

The call for an independent national authority to oversee a code of conduct and to investigate allegations is not new. But advocates say progress has slowed due to pushback from sports organizations and questions of cost and jurisdiction from governments.

The current climate is ripe for change to finally happen, they add.

Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters resigned Friday after apologizing for using “offensive language” 10 years ago and former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has been accused of questionable motivational tactics. At the same time, athletes at the University of Victoria, University of Lethbridge and University of Windsor have come forward with allegations of abuse and harassment against coaches.

Charges against Charest related to Forsyth were dismissed because the alleged incidents occurred outside Canada. A lawyer who previously represented Charest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The push for safer sports, which began heating up two years ago with the #MeToo movement and Charest trial in which he was convicted of abusing other female skiers, has spurred fear among sports organizations of the “pendulum overswinging,” says Dasha Peregoudova, president of AthletesCan, which represents national team athletes.

Peregoudova says organizations worry about receiving a flood of historical complaints that they don’t have the means or capability to deal with. But she says any culture shift requires massive changes to practices and understanding.

“If that’s going to be defined as the pendulum overswinging, then so be it, because that’s what it takes to have real, true and meaningful long-lasting change.”

The previous sports minister, Kirsty Duncan, made addressing abuse and harassment her signature issue and tasked the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport with leading a process to develop a national code of conduct. A final draft that clearly defines types of mistreatment and lays out sanctions for violators was submitted to the government this week.

Sports organizations had pushed for sport-specific language in order to prevent, for example, normal physical contact in martial arts from becoming prohibited, says Gretchen Kerr, a professor specializing in athlete maltreatment at the University of Toronto.

However, she says experts warned against including a clause that would have exempted contact, behaviour or coaching methods that are “objectively acceptable” in a sport, because a major risk factor for abuse is that certain practices have become normalized.

She stresses normal physical contact would not be policed under the draft code of conduct.

“Any logical person in the receipt of a concern or the investigation would incorporate contextual considerations as they pursued the complaint,” Kerr says.

Some sports have embraced the idea of an independent body but there’s also been “huge pushback” from leading sports organizations, governments and the Coaching Association of Canada, says Bruce Kidd, a University of Toronto sport and public policy professor.

He says common concerns are that the body would “target” coaches or dampen the focus on high performance and result in fewer medals, he says.

“Instead of saying that these kinds of practices are part of producing tough athletes, we should say no, you don’t have to wreck people to turn them into champions,” says Kidd. “Most of the evidence is that people perform best when they are valued and affirmed.”

READ MORE: Bill Peters apologizes to Calgary Flames in letter to GM after racism allegations

AthletesCan, the heads of some sports organizations and experts including Kidd and Kerr sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this month urging him to mandate his next sports minister to end self-regulation and establish an independent process to address all forms of maltreatment.

In his latest cabinet, Trudeau axed the sports minister position and gave the responsibility to Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. The minister says in a statement that every athlete in Canada deserves to perform in a safe environment.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some members of city council say the current plan for rebuilding the library isn’t in the community’s best interest, but the majority of council say it should go forward as is, so the motion to reexamine it was defeated. File photo/Campbell River Mirror
Re-examination of plan for new Campbell River library narrowly voted down by council

‘I haven’t heard one argument that does make sense for why that has to be the location’

A welcoming ceremony was held at the meeting of the SRD board April 14, where gifts were exchanged between KCFN Director Kevin Jules (left) and SRD Chair Brad Unger (right) to mark the historic occasion. Photo Submitted
KCFN officially joins SRD as full member

‘For KCFN, this has been a long journey and a long time coming’ says SRD board member Kevin Jules

Fish processing workers fillet farm-raised salmon in Surrey B.C. Photo courtesy BCSFA
Discovery Islands salmon farm removal impacts jobs in B.C.’s Lower Mainland: report

The City of Surrey is the hub of the salmon farming industry in Metro Vancouver

Island Heath has issued an overdose advisory for Campbell River. If someone has overdosed, administering naloxone can help. File photo
Overdose advisory issued for Campbell River

People using drugs advised to protect themselves

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

(Amandalina Letterio - Capital News)
Kelowna demonstrators show support for Vancouver Island logging activists

Two Kelowna men stood atop a pedestrian bridge on Harvey Avenue to raise awareness about old-growth forests

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

Most Read