Pelletier says solving safe-sport crisis requires buy-in from all levels
There are many stories in sport of coaches accused of abuse by one club or provincial organization moving to another club, province or even sport under the guise of jurisdictional boundaries, and nobody is smarter.
Abusive behavior can also go unchecked at the grassroots without universal rules of conduct, reporting, and suspension.
Six months after Canada’s new Office of Sports Integrity Commissioner began hearing cases, Sarah-Eve Pelletier said these are a few black holes in the fight against abuse in Canadian sport.
“Our country urgently needs harmonized rules regarding abuse in sport and how to deal with it,” Pelletier said on Monday. “The universal code of practice for preventing and combating abuse in sport, the UCCMS, provides a strong foundation at the national level, but the current inconsistency of the rules and their application at different levels of sport participation remains an important gap that needs to be addressed.”
Pelletier, Canada’s first commissioner for sports integrity and a former artistic swimmer, testified on the safety of women and girls in sport at Monday’s meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
Sports Secretary Pascale St-Onge said on Tuesday she plans to urge her provincial counterparts to speed up her efforts to investigate abuse in sports when she meets them at the Canadian Winter Games in Charlottetown on February 17-18.
“It has to happen as soon as possible. I think we have an urgent matter before us,” St-Onge said. “We hear these stories of abuse and mistreatment at every level. It shouldn’t be a jurisdictional issue. All athletes should know who to turn to in such situations.”
Pelletier said provincial buy-in will fill some of the gap.
“It’s really about making sure that all participants at all levels have consistent rules, consistent standards of behavior and then consistent ways to address them,” Pelletier said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
“Our services at the OSIC services are available to the provincial or territorial organizations that wish to use them. but that is not the point. It’s about making sure there’s a system in place that leaves no gaps. No gaps from the victims. No gaps for the survivors. And also no gaps for those who look for gaps in the system and damage paths.
“My favorite word is ‘harmonized system’ because it doesn’t necessarily have to be just one solution, OSIC really hopes to be part of the solution.”
Quebec is the only province to have a provincial reporting mechanism, Sport’Aide, established in 2014 to address the growing problem of violence in sports there.
Pelletier said OSIC had received 48 complaints as of Dec. 31, but only 25 percent had been admitted in the first quarter due to jurisdictional issues. That number rose to 33 percent in the second quarter, and Pelletier expects the percentage to increase as sports organizations become signers. St-Onge has set an April deadline to register before sports organizations risk losing federal funding.
“Time is of the essence and the sooner sports organizations join the program nationally, the better we can address cases relating to participants in that jurisdiction,” she said.
“Within our powers, we can impose sanctions on people who have allowed violations. We have the power to compel those who have joined our processes to participate. And we also have a mandate to keep a register of (persons who have received) sanctions.”
Pelletier said the entry point for athletes making a report is often through OSIC’s helpline. From there, she said, athletes receive legal aid and mental health referrals throughout the process.
She added that when a complaint is inadmissible due to jurisdictional boundaries, OSIC is attempting to find an alternative avenue for complaint.
“In less than a third of those cases, we are able to find an alternative mechanism,” she said.
Because of this, Pelletier says she is “very passionate” about bringing about real change in Canadian sports culture.
“This cannot only happen on a national level. We really need prevention, education, starting with the young parents, starting with the young children who know their rights and responsibilities, and that has to be concrete and real at the association level and at the provincial level,” Pelletier said.
“It’s something that can be solved collectively when all levels of the system work together.”