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