Are har­rass­ment, abuse poli­cies fall­ing be­hind?

Medicine Hat News - - SPORTS - LORI EWING

Shel­don Kennedy’s sex­ual abuse case against hockey coach Gra­ham James rocked Cana­dian sport in the late 1990s, and Canada stepped up, writ­ing one of the strong­est sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse poli­cies in the world, ex­perts say.

But 20 years later, most be­lieve Canada has fallen asleep on the job. When it comes to pro­tect­ing its ath­letes, the coun­try now lags be­hind the U.S., Aus­tralia and the United King­dom, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port. The on­go­ing trial of gym­nas­tics coach Dave Brubaker plus high-pro­file cases in Alpine Canada and the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee are proof.

What’s go­ing on when the lights of Canada’s are­nas and gym­na­si­ums are dimmed? And why have peo­ple re­mained mum about it?

“What we had was re­ally pro­gres­sive in the mid-90s to early 2000s, and it’s just be­come stale,” said Peter Don­nelly, a ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of Toronto.

“Now we know a lot more about the way abuse oc­curs in sport, we have a much bet­ter sense of how tracked the ath­letes are once they’re in the sys­tem, when their par­ents have com­mit­ted so much money and time to it, when very of­ten the abuser has groomed their par­ents, kids and young adults feel trapped, they’re get­ting closer to their dream, and this is hap­pen­ing to them.”

Brubaker is the for­mer coach of the na­tional women’s gym­nas­tics team. He’s pleaded not guilty to sex­ual as­sault and in­vi­ta­tion to sex­ual touch­ing at a trial that will re­sume next month in Sar­nia, Ont.

In June, Canada’s Sport Min­is­ter Kirsty Dun­can an­nounced that na­tional sport or­ga­ni­za­tions (NSOs) would lose their fund­ing if they didn’t im­me­di­ately dis­close to her of­fice any al­le­ga­tions of abuse or ha­rass­ment. She also said hav­ing an in­de­pen­dent third party in­ves­ti­gate all al­le­ga­tions of abuse will be a re­quire­ment of gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

In their re­cent pa­per, how­ever, Don­nelly and fel­low U of T pro­fes­sor Gretchen Kerr say those poli­cies have been in place since 1996, as part of the Sport Canada Ac­count­abil­ity Frame­work. They’re just not be­ing ad­e­quately ap­plied.

In “Re­vis­ing Canada’s Poli­cies on Ha­rass­ment and Abuse in Sport,” Don­nelly and Kerr found that of the 42 NSOs and their pro­vin­cial coun­ter­parts (PSOs) they in­ter­viewed, only 13.9 per cent of NSOs, and 10 per cent of PSOs (pro­vin­cial sport or­ga­ni­za­tions) iden­ti­fied a ha­rass­ment of­fi­cer. None of them iden­ti­fied the of­fi­cer as third-party or “arms length.”

Kerr and Don­nelly say sport has to get away from self-reg­u­la­tion.

“That’s what we’ve had since 1996, and be­tween our re­search and the high-pro­file cases that have emerged, it’s clear ev­i­dence that self-reg­u­la­tion is not work­ing,” Kerr said, not­ing the other ma­jor sec­tors of so­ci­ety — the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts, for ex­am­ple — that have moved away from self-reg­u­la­tion.

Kerr, who’s vol­un­teered with Gym­nas­tics Canada as an ath­lete wel­fare of­fi­cer for 30 years, said the prob­lem is mul­ti­fac­eted. It’s dif­fi­cult to find vol­un­teers to per­form a highly-spe­cial­ized job. Some cases are in­cred­i­bly time­con­sum­ing. And of­ten, the job falls to an NSO staff mem­ber, “of­ten times their own CEO,” she said.

“Which is just crazy, it’s a huge con­flict of in­ter­est,” Kerr said.

“What we had was re­ally pro­gres­sive in the mid-90s to early 2000s, and it’s just be­come stale.” – Peter Don­nelly, ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and

phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor

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