All it took was for some­one to fi­nally stand up to Cana­dian Olympic boss Mar­cel Aubut.

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Bruce Arthur

In the end the pow­er­house, the bully, the bull, he went away qui­etly. Mar­cel Aubut was the head of the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee, and a con­nected, pow­er­ful man. He was a prodi­gious fundraiser, a charmer, a self-pro­moter, a force. And then last week he was ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment: one woman, then another, then another. Aubut de­liv­ered his res­ig­na­tion on Satur­day, and the first woman ap­par­ently asked to with­draw her com­plaint.

“I would like to take this op­por­tu­nity to apol­o­gize to those who may have been of­fended by my be­hav­iour,” Aubut said in a state­ment. “I re­al­ize that my at­ti­tude could at times be per­ceived as ques­tion­able by some women and could have caused them to feel un­com­fort­able. I ac­knowl­edge this and will ad­just my be­hav­iour ac­cord­ingly.”

He may have known that it wasn’t go­ing to stop. Within the COC, ac­cord­ing to sources, it was known Aubut would hug fe­male staffers longer, and closer, than they were com­fort­able with. He would kiss slop­pily on the cheeks, or ask for kisses on the lips, sources said, and joke that you were a prude if you re­fused, how­ever lightly. He would talk about how won­der­ful a wed­ding night would be, were you to be mar­ried, the sources said. It wasn’t a cud­gel, and it could have been worse, but it alien­ated many staffers.

“When you work at the COC, all women, there is an un­der­stand­ing that you are ei­ther Mar­cel’s daugh­ter, or Mar­cel’s girl­friend,” said one fe­male for­mer COC em­ployee, who asked to re­main anony­mous. “There’s two camps of women, and you soon find out which camp you’re in.

“You have to be nice to him, be­cause he’s such a pow­er­ful man. And peo­ple would just say ‘Oh, it’s Mar­cel.’ Even se­nior lead­ers would say, it’s Mar­cel. There was no op­tion for it to change. Be­cause peo­ple used to just brush it off, you didn’t know ex­actly where the line of ha­rass­ment is.”

She says Aubut was even more ag­gres­sive to­wards the women who spoke French, and that the women at the COC would talk about it to the point that it be­came lunchtime con­ver­sa­tion.

And the COC knew, even if it didn’t have a for­mal com­plaint. In a 2011 let­ter, whose ex­is­tence was re­vealed by La Presse, the COC di­rected Aubut to cease a num­ber of of­fen­sive be­hav­iours.

It said, stop touch­ing peo­ple, stop kiss­ing peo­ple ex­cept for air kisses.

Stop call­ing women your girl­friend, cease all sex­ual ref­er­ences, cease all ref­er­ences to mar­i­tal sta­tus. And it read, “Do not try to talk about this meet­ing or in­ci­dent that led to it. You must act as if the con­ver­sa­tion had never taken place.”

It ap­pears a lot had to hap­pen be­fore there were even those mod­est con­se­quences. TVA re­ported that Aubut set­tled a sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim at his law firm, Heenan Blaikie, in 2011, over grop­ing, ver­bal ha­rass­ment and invit­ing a woman into a room only to show up wear­ing boxer shorts. In La Presse, lawyer and Cana­dian Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion board mem­ber Amelia Sale­habadi- Fouques al­leged Aubut forcibly kissed her in a res­tau­rant, ver­bally ha­rassed her, and tried to en­ter her ho­tel room, also in 2011. No­body knows how many women there were or how far back it goes. The COC has moved quickly, af­ter not mov­ing at all.

“The Olympic move­ment is a won­der­ful move­ment,” says Chris Rudge, the CEO of the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee from 2003 to 2010, and now the out­go­ing pres­i­dent and CEO of the Toronto Arg­onauts.

“It’s al­ways had its is­sues, as we all know . . . but you can’t lose sight of the prin­ci­ples that drive Olymp­ism for­ward, and what it means to many young ath­letes and so­ci­eties and all the good that’s there. And when you have some­thing like this hap­pen, an or­ga­ni­za­tion like the COC, par­tic­u­larly when you have an allper­va­sive leader like Mr. Aubut, it falls vic­tim to the cult of per­son­al­ity.”

Rudge made sure to men­tion there are good peo­ple do­ing good things at the COC, and that’s true. An ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion has ended, the Cana­dian Press re­ported, be­cause the first com­plainant no longer wished to pur­sue it and the COC said in a state­ment that a sec­ond probe will con­tinue.

The al­le­ga­tions against Aubut are un­proven. Tricia Smith, a COC vice-pres­i­dent, will take over as in­terim pres­i­dent.

Aubut was known as a bully, a di­vi­sive fig­ure, a man whose am­bi­tion meant ev­ery­thing. He slavered over Vladimir Putin at Canada House in Sochi, which was an em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment for Canada. He failed to spur a Toronto bid for the 2024 Olympics, which he deeply wanted af­ter the Pan Am Games this past sum­mer. It’s been well­known he has longed for an IOC mem­ber­ship, which hasn’t come.

Canada’s Olympic move­ment em­braced Aubut’s am­bi­tion, his power, his con­nec­tions. (The last three COC ex­ec­u­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tors have been for­mer Con­ser­va­tive Party spokes­men.) They ap­pear to have tol­er­ated his per­son­al­ity, due to his tal­ent. It’s not just a pro sports thing. It hap­pens ev­ery­where.

“I hope peo­ple don’t lose sight of the strength it took for this lady to come for­ward, faced with a very, very pow­er­ful in­di­vid­ual,” says Rudge.

“And to have the courage to chal­lenge what had gone on, and the courage of her con­vic­tions to fol­low through and get a res­o­lu­tion to an is­sue for many, many other women who weren’t in a po­si­tion to come for­ward.”

That, as much as any­thing, is the un­der­ly­ing les­son in all this. No­body truly chal­lenged Mar­cel Aubut, un­til some­body did. If you’re look­ing for the Olympian in all this, there you go.

Mar­cel Aubut re­signed as pres­i­dent of the COC. He is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

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