Committee probing abuse in sport must hold athletes, coaches accountable: Liberal MP – National

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The House of Commons committee investigating abuse in sport needs to bring in experts to identify the best ways to hold sporting organizations, athletes and coaches accountable for their actions, a Liberal MP is urging.

Chris Bittle, who sits on the heritage committee, said that includes making sure there are consequences for inappropriate behaviour, up to and including disqualifying players from representing Canada.

“We can look at whether there are organizations that are putting athletes on such pedestals that there are no consequences for their actions, including this case that has led to our inquiry where there didn’t seem to be any consequences,” said Bittle in an interview.

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The heritage committee launched its investigation into abuse at Hockey Canada in June, after it came to light that the organization settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged eight members of the 2018 national junior team sexually assaulted her after a Hockey Canada gala in London, Ont.

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On Tuesday, Hockey Canada’s president, Scott Smith, and its entire board of directors stepped down from their posts following weeks of immense pressure from the government, provincial hockey associations and sponsors.

Bittle said it is a good step, but it doesn’t solve the problem that there are deep cultural issues in sport that have prompted a look-the-other-way attitude when medals and glory are on the line.

Smith was among the Hockey Canada officials who told the committee in June they learned about the alleged assault the day after the gala, but an internal investigation was not able to identify the players involved and no disciplinary action was taken.

“Why wasn’t there a look to say ‘there’s certain people who shouldn’t be wearing the maple leaf on their chest representing Canada moving forward’?” Bittle asked. “If there’s no consequences for coaches and athletes in terms of their conduct, it’s going to be worse.”


Click to play video: '‘It got to the point where I became suicidal’: Ex-player reflects on hockey’s toxic culture'


‘It got to the point where I became suicidal’: Ex-player reflects on hockey’s toxic culture


Bittle said sports are a great source of entertainment, but he wants an end to the win-at-all-costs attitude that allows players, coaches or others involved in sport to behave badly without reproach.

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The problem extends far beyond just hockey, he said. The heritage committee study is being expanded to look at other sports as well.

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge is in the midst of overhauling how sporting organizations are funded by her department, writing codes of conduct and transparency requirements right into the funding agreements.

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St-Onge said Tuesday that the leaders of sporting organizations have a critical role to play in how allegations of abuse are handled.

“Today, more than ever, I’m motivated to keep on working on the reform of the support system that I’ve started working on since day one in this mandate,” she said, adding that organizations who receive federal money should have “a higher level of best practices” in governance and transparency.

To get funding next year, all sporting organizations are required to sign on with the new sporting integrity commissioner, who was hired in June to implement a Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport.

The commissioner has a complaints process for athletes or others involved in sport, but only has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of mistreatment or discrimination against people from sporting organizations that have formally adopted the code of conduct and signed on to have the commissioner oversee complaints.

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As of now, only two national sports federations have signed on: Volleyball Canada and Weightlifting Canada.

In its first three months of operation, the integrity commissioner’s office received 24 formal complaints, but two-thirds were related to people in sporting organizations that haven’t yet signed on to the process.

Only six of the complaints were considered admissible under the commissioner’s jurisdiction.

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