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Yukon Territories

Gymnasts repeat calls to sport minister for investigation into toxic culture of abuse

TORONTO — Seven months after they first asked the federal government for an independent investigation into their sport, more than 500 current and former gymnasts are repeating their call for action.

TORONTO — Seven months after they first asked the federal government for an independent investigation into their sport, more than 500 current and former gymnasts are repeating their call for action.

Gymnasts For Change Canada, a group that has grown from what was originally 70 members, wrote an open letter to Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge on Wednesday, imploring her to take action.

“You have the authority to initiate the judicial investigations that Turner seeks,” the letter said. “Every day without action by the Canadian government is another day that children suffer the most heinous forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Every day without this action is another day when the brave survivors of this sport must find even more strength against a system that didn’t protect them as children, now invalidates their experiences and threatens to put the next generation at risk of horrific abuse. “

Gymnastics Canada announced last week that it had signed an agreement to join Abuse Free Sport and work with the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which was created as a one-stop shop for independent complaints investigators. St-Onge froze Gymnastics Canada funding in July, telling the federation that the process to register with OSIC needed to be expedited.

GymCan also hired McLaren Global Sport Solutions (MGSS) in June to analyze GymCan’s national safe sports policies and procedures, but Gymnasts For Change says neither OSIC nor the McLaren review are truly independent.

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 after (the allegations) came out because we had already told the Secretary of Sport that gymnastics needs a real independent investigation that meets legal standards,” said Spadafora. “And I wonder to this day, could that have been prevented if an investigation had been opened?”

In Wednesday’s letter, Gymnasts for Change referred to their June 22 letter to the Minister for Sport and others, which went unanswered. That letter listed numerous examples of abuse, including child rape by coaches, sexualized touching during stretches, sexual grooming under the guise of coaching, including asking gymnasts to kiss their coaches on the lips as a sign of “respect,” regular Weighing and shaming children as young as eight, as well as providing diet pills and laxatives, publicly calling children “fat, stupid and ugly” and forcing children to exercise for serious injuries such as broken bones and torn muscles.

“Each of these examples should justify the Canadian government’s most urgent action,” the letter said. “We are deeply disappointed that these examples have not inspired action. As we have informed your office, these examples are not historical and abuse continues in gyms across the country to this day.”

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 wrong? What else do we as survivors need to do to take action and protect children?”

The Turners said in Wednesday’s letter that they would continue to push for change and use their voices “to bring truth to power.”

“However, we know that without your action and guidance, our voices can only call abuse – they cannot stop it. This is an important moment in Canadian history and one that will define your legacy as Secretary of Sport… it’s time to act Protect every gymnast in Canada.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 26, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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