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

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.

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Alert Bay council has decided to cancel Canada Day celebrations. (Alertbay.ca photo)
Alert Bay council cancels Canada Day celebrations

The decision was made in wake of the mass graves being found at former residential schools

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press Media file
Port Hardy RCMP on the hunt for porta-pottie arsonist

The porta-potties were lit on fire early in the morning on June 13

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Most Read