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Trudeau calls for more transparency in sport as feds freeze Gymnastics Canada funds

Click to play video: 'Feds requesting Gymnastics Canada, other sport organizations to sign onto accountability measures: Trudeau'
Feds requesting Gymnastics Canada, other sport organizations to sign onto accountability measures: Trudeau
WATCH: Feds requesting Gymnastics Canada, other sport organizations to sign onto accountability measures: Trudeau – Jul 22, 2022

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there needs to be more transparency and accountability in sport as the federal government froze funding for Gymnastics Canada amid a flurry of abuse allegations and growing calls by athletes to investigate the complaints.

“I’ve had many conversations over the past number of weeks and months about the real concerns we have about a number of different organizations across the country that are not fulfilling their responsibility to keep our kids, keep our athletes safe,” he told reporters in Prince Edward Island on Friday.

Trudeau’s comments came as Ottawa suspended funds to Gymnastics Canada, a week after doing the same for Hockey Canada.

In announcing the Gymnastics Canada freeze, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge said the organization needs to step up its commitment to an independent program looking at abuse complaints in sports before the funds can be restored.

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“A few days ago, I notified GymCan that they needed to accelerate their process to sign up with OSIC, and that funding would be suspended until they met that requirement,” St-Onge told Global News in an emailed statement on Friday.

In a response to the funding freeze on Friday, Gymnastics Canada said St-Onge’s “public statements reiterate our collective efforts toward ensuring that athletes and participants in Canadian sport are truly served by an independent complaint mechanism and educational body.”

The organization said it has had “several” meetings with Sport Canada and St. Onge’s office regarding their commitment to the OSIC.

“Gymnastics Canada, in alignment with our member associations, have been and continue to be transparent in all of our Safe Sport efforts including our updated policies, procedures, and in our educational efforts. We remain committed to address abuse and maltreatment through an independent, formal and legally tested complaint management process,” the organization said.

They will also continue to provide support to those in need as a result of abuse, they said.

“We have collectively received and dealt with a large number of complaints and concerns that have all been managed through independent processes, and we have been successful in suspending or expelling individuals who have clearly broken respective Codes of Conduct,” Gymnastics Canada said.

“The sport system is facing significant complexities as we commit to modernize our approaches and practices. As leaders in the sport of gymnastics, we will continue to do our very best to adopt evidence-based practices and remain committed to working through any issues openly, fairly, and in alignment with our values.”

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The organization has an “integrity process” led by McLaren Group for the development of a “Culture Review Roadmap.” The road map will take into account “historical matters, engagement with survivor groups, policy and procedure reviews, and a holistic and pro-active approach for change.”

 

Click to play video: 'Canadian gymnasts allege years of abuse, call for action'
Canadian gymnasts allege years of abuse, call for action

A Canadian first, the Office of The Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) was launched in May. Commissioner Sarah-Eve Pelletier has been tasked with receiving complaints about alleged maltreatment in sports and where necessary, launch independent investigations.

So far, Volleyball Canada and Weightlifting Canada Haltérophilie, have signed up to the OSIC and “dozens” of other sports organizations are currently negotiating their contracts, according to a spokesperson for the office.

In an open letter to the sports minster on Thursday, hundreds of Canadian gymnasts pressed for an independent third-party investigation to address what they called a “systemic culture of abuse” in the sport.

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“We need urgent action now to stop the toxic abuse in the sport,” the letter said, asking the minister, “How many more children need to be abused before you act?”

Calls for change

Gymnasts for Change, a group that has grown to at least 500 current and retired gymnasts, has been calling on Sport Canada for an independent investigation into their sport for months.

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In March, another open letter was addressed to Sport Canada’s director general Vicki Walker, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge, Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) president Trisha Smith and Gymnastics Canada CEO Ian Moss.

In that letter, gymnasts said the fear of retribution had prevented them from speaking out for nearly a decade.

Abby Spadafora, a former national team gymnast, said she was “heartbroken” that their calls have gone unanswered.

“If we don’t get to the root of the problem, we will continue to hear stories, horrific stories of child abuse for years to come,” she told Global News.

In previous interviews with Global News, former Canadian gymnasts said they had to face constant weight shaming and endured physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

Click to play video: 'B.C. woman is lead plaintiff in class-action lawsuit alleging physical and psychological abuse of gymnasts'
B.C. woman is lead plaintiff in class-action lawsuit alleging physical and psychological abuse of gymnasts

Spadafora said abuse suffered by her and her teammates started when they were seven.

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“How many more seven-year-old children need to be abused before we realize that we need to do something immediately,” she said. “Many children don’t even know that they’re being abused because it is so normalized.”

St-Onge said in her statement Friday she understands “the sense of urgency that motivates these athletes” and shared their desire for meaningful change.

“Since my appointment, my priority has been to work with the tools at my disposal and find solutions that encompass our sport system,” she added.

What about other sports?

 

Gymnastics Canada received $3.1 million from the federal government in 2020-2021 and $2.8 million last year, in 2021-2022.

Last month, Ottawa also froze funding to Hockey Canada as the organization remains embroiled in a firestorm of scrutiny over its handling of sexual assault allegations.

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Hockey Canada received $8.8 million in federal funding last year.

The national sporting body announced last week it was reopening a third-party investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of the country’s 2018 world junior team.

Click to play video: 'Hockey Canada taking steps in ‘right direction’ but needs action to improve ‘culture of silence’: Minister of Sport'
Hockey Canada taking steps in ‘right direction’ but needs action to improve ‘culture of silence’: Minister of Sport

St-Onge has asked all national sport organizations to sign on with the OSIC.

Swimming Canada told Global News they are one of the organizations in the midst of negotiations with the OSIC, saying it is “absolutely a priority.”

Athletics Canada also said it was in the process of reaching “signatory status” with the OSIC.

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“At this time having signatory status is not tied to federal funding, however we understand that this will be a requirement at some point,” a spokesperson for Athletics Canada said in an emailed statement.

— with files from Global News’ David Baxter, David Akin, Teresa Wright, Irelyne Lavery and The Canadian Press 

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