Madam Speaker, the government has heard from many athletes across Canada and it has heard from me. We are all pressing the minister for the same thing: that an independent body be established that has the mandate to investigate claims made by athletes of sexual abuse or harassment in sport.
I am sure we are all familiar with the history of sexual abuse and harassment in sport, so I will not go into the many well-documented cases that have been reported in the media in recent months. It is reasonable to refer to this situation as a crisis, a crisis that requires swift and decisive action.
Recently publicized was an open letter from “a coalition of multi-sport organizations, researchers and retired athletes [that proposed that the government establish] a single, independent, arm's length system of education, investigation and compliance.” The NDP also calls for the establishment of such a body. The letter said:
Canada is at a crossroads in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of gender-based violence in sport. It is clear that the 1996 Sport Canada policy to prevent harassment and abuse in sport has not been effective.
Sport-by-sport self-regulation means that there will be as many different approaches to gender-based violence as there are sports bodies, a situation that is inconsistent with the principles of uniform treatment and the values of Canadian sport.
Here is the process now for an athlete who has been sexually abused or harassed.
First, the athlete must go to his or her national sport organization with the harassment or abuse complaint, and the NSO hires an investigator to investigate. The organization can either find its own investigator, and many admit that they do not know how to do this, or it can go to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada and access the list of investigators it has compiled, which it has spent a considerable amount of time compiling. Either way, the athlete has no input into who will do the investigating, while the NSO has total control and pays for the investigator.
Second, the SDRCC mainly deals with disputes between national team athletes and their NSOs. It does not hear disputes for anyone who is not a national team athlete, and that means over 99% of all athletes. Only Athletics Canada has its own ombudsman office, which hires independent investigators and publishes their reports.
This is not an athlete-centred approach to dealing with this crisis. It is doubtful that many young people would subject themselves to it, knowing that they must go through their national sport organization first. This set-up would discourage those who have been abused from coming forward.
The minister must make this more independent and athlete-centred. She must change the process so that athletes can go directly to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre and make the complaint, after which the SDRCC would help to choose, with the athlete's approval, the investigation team. The SDRCC, not the NSO, would pay for the investigation, and the report would be made public. This is the approach the government would take to this serious issue if it were serious about addressing it. The minister is giving most of the authority in this endeavour to the organization that represents virtually all abusers, as history tells us: the Coaching Association of Canada.
Additionally, all people with a complaint about harassment or abuse in sport could use this service, not just national team athletes and not just athletes. Employees, volunteers and everyone who has alleged abuse or harassment within Canadian sport should have access to this investigative service.
When women started coming forward about a certain former Canadian Olympic Committee executive, most of them were not athletes. They were employees, consultants and volunteers. The COC interviewed every one of them, but to this day it has not made the report public and most complaints would probably be resolved through mediation and would not require a lengthy investigation.
The point is that the government has chosen to completely ignore advice from leading sports researchers and scholars in this country.