A group of Canadian gymnasts who called for an independent investigation into their sport are “dismayed, but not surprised” in Gymnastics Canada’s announcement of a culture review.
McLaren Global Sport Solutions (MGSS) has been hired to analyze Gymnastics Canada’s national safe sport policies and procedures after dozens of current and former gymnasts wrote to Sport Canada claiming maltreatment amid a toxic culture in their sport.
“GymCan has unilaterally imposed this process upon survivors without consultation or discussion,” the athletes, who call themselves Gymnasts for Change, said in a statement.
“The announcement offers no assurances that this process will be trauma-informed, safe, and meaningful for survivors to engage with. Indeed, the announcement makes no mention of survivors or the epidemic of abuse within gymnastics at all. This follows a consistent pattern of the institution placing its concerns for self-preservation above the needs of survivors and highlights GymCan’s ongoing failure to truly listen to survivors in this sport.”
The dozens of gymnasts who penned an open letter to Sport Canada in early April has since grown to over 550 signatories. As well, former gymnast Amelia Cline was the named plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against Gymnastics Canada and six provincial gymnastics federations. The proposed class of plaintiffs claim physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse while participating in programs delivered by those organizations dating back to 1978.
The 32-page proposed class-action lawsuit was filed in the Supreme Court of B.C. last month.
“The MGSS team is pleased to work with GymCan on this important engagement,” McLaren CEO Richard McLaren said in a statement Thursday. “The sport of gymnastics globally has been facing intense scrutiny and the same is true here in Canada. We will be reviewing the findings from international reports and engaging the voices of athletes and other members of the GymCan community.”
Gymnastics was among several sports that have complained to Canada’s Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge about toxic cultures and maltreatment in their sport in what St-Onge has called a safe sport “crisis.”
Hockey Canada is the most recent to hit headlines after quietly settling a lawsuit last month after a woman, now 24, claimed she was assaulted by members of the country’s 2018 gold-medal winning world junior team at a gala four years ago in London, Ont. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
“The issue of systemic child abuse in gymnastics warrants the full attention of the Government and, in continuing to ignore our calls in this regard, it risks the perception of complicity alongside GymCan,” the gymnasts said.
“The Heritage Standing Committee has ordered an independent investigation into the culture of Hockey Canada. Just as it would be galling for Hockey Canada to pay for its own investigation, so too should it shock the conscience of the Government and public that GymCan should be allowed to investigate itself without oversight or any guarantee of accountability.”
Hockey Canada executives were grilled by legislators on Parliament Hill last week during a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting looking into the matter. The national sport organization has lost its government funding and several major sponsors due to its handling of the case.
In gymnastics, 11 former gymnasts, known as the Bluewater Survivors, also last month publicly criticized GymCan’s handling of their abuse investigation into coaches Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker, saying they were re-victimized by their forced silence. The 11 comprise the core group of athletes who pushed for a third-party investigation and testified in the 2020 disciplinary procedure with Gymnastics Canada.
According to the 11, who trained out of Bluewater Gymnastics in Sarnia, Ont., a March 2021 disciplinary judgment found 54 counts of misconduct, including emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse, in the couple’s capacity as coaches over multiple years, up to and including the year of Dave Brubaker’s arrest in 2017.
Brubaker was charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse. He was found not guilty, but GymCan launched its own investigation after numerous complaints and Brubaker was banned for life in 2021. His wife Elizabeth was suspended in 2019 through 2024. The Brubakers have denied all allegations.
Gymnasts for Change repeated their call for Sport Canada to intervene, saying the McLaren review isn’t independent since it’s been “bought and paid for by GymCan.”
They said GymCan’s response “bears striking similarities” to the strategy adopted by USA Gymnastics in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar, a U.S. gymnastics doctor, received a life sentence after accusations of sexual assault from hundreds of women.
“By failing to invite a fully independent, transparent, binding, and trauma-informed investigation, GymCan is continuing to refuse to acknowledge the systemic abuses that run rampant throughout this sport or to hold those accountable who have upheld this toxic system for decades,” they said.
McLaren said in its release Thursday that the culture review road map will engage athletes and alumni at various levels, as well as provincial and territorial leaders, coaches, parents and others to identify key issues.
“It is imperative that Gymnastics Canada gets this right, which is why we believe engaging the GymCan community will inform a best-in-class culture review and ideally foster trust in the process,” McLaren said.
Added GymCan CEO Ian Moss: “Notwithstanding our many efforts over the years to proactively address maltreatment, we strive to do better. We believe the culture review road map will give us the clarity we need to make the necessary changes in our system and to forge higher levels of trust.”
Among McLaren’s previous work, it was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2016 to investigate allegations and evidence into state-sponsored doping in Russia. The report was released in two parts in July and December of 2016.