June 5, 2023
Canadian gymnasts slam federal sports minister's inaction after reports of toxic culture  CBC sport

Canadian gymnasts slam federal sports minister’s inaction after reports of toxic culture CBC sport

WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.

Calls to investigate the “toxic culture and rampant child abuse ingrained in Canadian gymnastics” went unanswered for seven months, a group of more than 500 Canadian gymnasts claims in an open letter released Wednesday.

Now the group Gymnasts For Change Canada is “urging and imploring” Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge to launch an independent third-party judicial investigation “for the good of all gymnasts in the country”.

The letter said: “The lack of response sends the message that these voices don’t matter and their experiences aren’t worth action.”

According to the group, these experiences include seeing children being publicly humiliated, being sexually groomed, being forced to exercise because of significant injuries, being starved of food, and being verbally and physically abused.

The list, which includes other troubling details, was reportedly sent to St-Onge, her chief of staff, and a Sport Canada representative in a June 22 email.

Gymnasts For Change Canada claims the email was “replied to with no action” from St-Onge’s office, along with another open letter dated March 2022 asking for an independent investigation into the matter.

“Certainly their voices are now too loud to be ignored, and yet their bravery has met with no action from your office.”

St-Onge responded to the letter in a media crowd in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“The stories we’ve heard about abuse or mistreatment in their sport at all levels, sometimes it’s local clubs, provincial clubs or the national level, I have to say it’s absolutely heartbreaking and extremely disturbing,” she said.

The Sports Minister added that there must be a “collective response” and that the creation of the Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner is the independent body that athletes of all sports have been calling for.

“Yes, it’s federally funded, just like any court that’s federally funded, but it’s still an independent body,” St-Onge said. “And this is part of the solution so that athletes can address their cases of abuse and mistreatment, whether it’s individual grievances or cultural sports assessments.”

The group says abusive behavior persists in the gymnastics community.

“These examples are not historical and the abuse continues to this day in gyms across the country.

“Today we call for your action… Every day without action by the Canadian government is another day that children suffer the most heinous forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.”

CLOCK | Sports Minister Responds to Canadian Gymnasts’ Call:

Sports Minister responds to Canadian gymnasts’ call for action against sport’s toxic culture

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge addresses the calls from Canadian gymnasts who wrote an open letter to her office about how to deal with toxic culture in sports.

Last summer, gymnastics coach Jamie Ellacott was charged with sexually assaulting four girls aged seven to 14 in Lethbridge, Alta.

Abby Spadafora – who detailed her own allegations of years of sexual, emotional and physical abuse in the 1990s in a public letter in May – wonders whether a federal investigation could have stopped the attacks in Lethbridge before they allegedly took place.

“It was really hard to swallow. I didn’t sleep for days afterwards [the allegations] came out because we had already told the sports minister that gymnastics needs a real independent investigation that meets judicial standards,” Spadafora said. “And I wonder to this day, if an investigation had been opened, could that have been prevented? “

Public Inquiry

Liberal MP and former Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan is pushing for a full public inquiry that would examine the problem of abuse in all sports, similar to the Dubin Inquiry that examined doping in Canadian sport in 1989.

Kim Shore, a former member of GymCan’s board of directors, said there is precedence. Several countries, including Australia and the UK, have conducted independent investigations. Australia’s was completed by the Australian Human Rights Commission, while Britain’s Whyte Review was co-commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England.

“It’s so incredible that in a beautiful country like Canada there are so many capable entities stuck in apathy when it comes to child abuse,” Shore said. “Nine other countries have conducted independent investigations, many at the behest of their governments, so what’s going on? What else do we as survivors need to do to take action and protect children?”

The group also notes that Gymnastics Canada has joined the office of the Sports Integrity Commission (OSIC), but argues that this detracts from the “necessity of gymnasts for a judicial investigation,” citing reasons such as the OSIC’s limited resources, lack of independence, lack of subpoena powers and inability to enforce sanctions.

“The Commissioner and her team have graciously accepted our decision not to undertake an assessment of the sports environment, recognizing that gymnastics needs a mechanism equipped in substance and scope to address the serious and systemic nature of the abuse that the gymnastics plagues.”

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