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Howard Levitt: Sports scandals an opportunity for real change

Howard Levitt and Kathryn Marshall: No more excuses, no more finger pointing and endless government investigations

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Howard Levitt and Kathryn Marshall

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Canadian sport has been in the news for the past few weeks-but for the wrong reasons.

First it was Hockey Canada with the horrific news that members of the 2018 gold medal-winning world junior team allegedly sexually assaulted a young woman after a gala in London, Ontario.

This quickly snowballed, and allegations began to surface another sexual assault in 2003 at the World Junior Championships. Police have launched investigations into both.

then it was Gymnastics Canada’s turn.

500 gymnasts applied in an open letter to the Minister of Sport calls for a freeze of its public funds because of its systemic “culture of abuse.”

That has has now turned into a full blown crisis with the government in damage control mode.

Federal funding has been suspended for both Hockey Canada and Gymnastics Canada. Parliamentary hearings have been launched and continued last week.

MPs are trying to get to the bottom of it. Who knew what and when? Why was nothing ever done? How could that happen?

The answer is the obvious and shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Lots of people knew. Nobody acted decisively. The buck was passed, non-disclosure agreements were likely signed, and the system protected the perpetrators. The problems repeated themselves and escalated.

It even emerged that Hockey Canada used a reserve fund generated from membership dues and investments to settle allegations of “historic sexual abuse” out of court.

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Apparently, Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit with the victim of the 2018 attack.

If you’re feeling deja vu, you’re not alone.

We’ve seen it all before with the Canadian Armed Forces sexual harassment and abuse scandal, also ongoing for years. A lot of people knew about it, but the system protected the perpetrators and there was no accountability.

Sport Canada is no different.

As we learned from the Parliamentary Inquiry, Sport Canada was briefed on the 2018 sexual assault allegations very early. This has been known for years now.

Sports Minister Pascale St Onge, testified before Parliament that Sport Canada had received “information” back in 2018 that there was an allegation of a sexual nature, but that there were no specific details or the power to investigate. Why didn’t she get it? That was her clear commitment back then, instead of bowing her head, covering her ears and singing, “See no evil, hear no evil.”

In short, the government knew, decided to look the other way and did absolutely nothing.

This is the definition of an institutional failure and gets to the very heart of the problem.

When people with the authority to make a change know abuse is occurring and choose to look the other way, it allows abuse to continue and hurts their own obligations.

The notion that the government somehow had “no power” to investigate serious allegations of sexual assault involving an organization receiving public funds is a lie and a total excuse.

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Enough is enough.

No more excuses, passing the buck and endless regulatory investigations.

It’s time for real action.

The government must immediately appoint a senior retired judge Demanding the respect of stakeholders and the public (not a workplace investigator looking for future assignments) to conduct a full investigation into Hockey Canada and Gymnastics Canada’s allegations of sexual assault and abuse – no stone should be left unturned.

As part of this investigation, a review should be conducted of the policies and processes in place within these organizations regarding the reporting and handling of complaints of sexual misconduct. New, robust policies must be implemented immediately, with an emphasis on accountability and action, not sweeping things under the rug.

The previous allegations are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the next few weeks, we’re likely to hear more allegations, more cover-ups, and more blame.

But we must not let it become what happened with the Bundeswehr scandal. Years of costly public inquiries, government-commissioned reportseverything ends in a whimper with no essential action.

Government now has an opportunity to make real change.

Hopefully her will finally get it.

Do you have questions about employment law? Write to Howard at [email protected]

Howard Levitt is a senior partner at Levitt Sheikh, employment attorneys with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practices labor law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books including The Redundancy Act in Canada. Kathryn Marshall is partner of Levitt Sheikh.

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