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National sports organizations have to report allegations of abuse immediately

Last Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 5:40 pm EDT

Minister of Science, Sport and Persons with Disabilities Kirsty Duncan makes an announcement on the elimination of harassment, abuse and discrimination in sport in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan says national sporting organizations will lose their federal funding if they don’t immediately disclose to her office any allegations of abuse or harassment that occur within their ranks.

Effective immediately, funding agreements also require sporting associations to establish an independent third party to investigate all allegations of abuse and have mandatory prevention training in place as soon as possible and no later than April 1, 2020.

“I am prepared to withhold funding,” Duncan said. “I’ve done it in science. I will do it in sport. Money talks.”

The new rules unveiled Tuesday apply to the 57 national sporting organizations, funded by Sport Canada, that govern all aspects of particular sports, including oversight of elite programs and national teams, professional development for coaches, and initiatives to promote and develop their sport. They do not apply to provincial sporting organizations.

Cheryl Hardcastle, the NDP critic for sport, said she doesn’t understand why the government would allow organizations almost two full years to implement mandatory training.

Duncan said the mandatory training deadline was chosen in consultation with sporting organizations, but she encouraged national sporting bodies to put the training in place as soon as possible.

Lorraine Lafreniere, CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada, said about 30 national organizations already have some form of training on abuse and harassment and the nearly two-year lead time will give them all the time needed to make sure the right training is in place.

“Today is about signalling change with the commitment for change to put our sport system and anybody who potentially wants to abuse within the sport system on notice,” Lafreniere said.

The changes come as the sporting world reels from numerous cases of sexual abuse and harassment of athletes in a number of different sports both in Canada and elsewhere.

Earlier this month, several former members of Canada’s national ski team came forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their former coach Bertrand Charest, in the 1990s. Charest was convicted a year ago of 37 offences of sexual assault and exploitation — and athletes have since said Alpine Canada told them to keep quiet about the abuse for fear of losing corporate sponsorships.

Duncan commended the athletes for their courage in speaking out. Many of the changes were on their wish lists, including third-party investigations and mandatory training.

In their current form, the changes won’t ensure sport associations in every province are made aware of abuse allegations — a step that would ensure prospective employers in other parts of the country have all the necessary information before hiring a coach or official.

Nor is Sport Canada currently enforcing the “rule of two” on all organizations, which would mean coaches cannot be alone with an athlete for an extended period of time.

Duncan said Tuesday’s announcement is just the first step, and that she intends to speak personally with her provincial counterparts to work towards a national standard in abuse and harassment awareness and prevention.

Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, an abuse survivor who now runs Respect in Sport to help train coaches and athletes, cheered the latest moves, saying the biggest risk to athletes is a lack of knowledge among coaches, parents and officials about what to look for and what to do.

“Yes it’s about weeding out bad coaches, but it’s also about giving coaches and organizations confidence to deal with these issues,” said Kennedy.

“Mandatory training brings a platform, a consistent language and a confidence for people to act on their gut feelings if something isn’t feeling right.”