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Kirsty Duncan says she was told to pivot from safe sport crisis, calls for inquiry

Click to play video: 'MP Kirsty Duncan says she was told to ‘get back to what sport was about,’ calls for public inquiry'
MP Kirsty Duncan says she was told to ‘get back to what sport was about,’ calls for public inquiry
WATCH: MP Kirsty Duncan says she was told to 'get back to what sport was about,' calls for public inquiry – Jun 15, 2023

Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan told a committee of MPs that when her time as sport minister ended in 2019, she had been told the role needed to “get back to what sport was really about” after she asked about plans for tackling safe sport reform.

Duncan spoke before the standing committee on Canadian heritage, and answered questions from her fellow MPs about why it appeared the government was not embracing the idea for an inquiry, as well as her exit from the role in 2019.

“At that time I did ask what we would be doing on safe sport going forward, and I was told that we had to get back to what sport was really about. I said, ‘So not protecting children,'” she told MPs.

She added that while there appeared to be some momentum building for action on safe sport by athletes testifying before the committee, there has also been the presence of “absolute resistance to moving forward on safe sport initiatives,” specifically by sporting bodies.

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In addition to resistance to a national help line, she said there was pushback to a third-party investigator.

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The Etobicoke North MP served as Minister of Science and Sport from 2015 to 2019.

Sport Canada is overseen by the federal Canadian Heritage ministry.

In calling for a national public inquiry, Duncan said following past testimony by athletes, action needs to happen now.

“I think we are finally at a moment in time where we cannot lose this moment,” she told MPs. “There is an understanding that this is a problem and we cannot afford to fail our children. The time is now.”

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Fencer Emily Mason has added her voice to those calling for an inquiry, alongside soccer players Ciara McCormack and Andrea Neil, and Olympic boxer Myriam Da Silva Rondeau. Mason told the Canadian heritage committee in April that urgent action is needed.

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“With every passing day, there are more children who are placed into these environments. More children who are experiencing the same things that we have and continue to every single day that a national inquiry is not called and we’re not taking action. That is not acceptable,” Mason said at the time.

The hearings began last year after media reports that Hockey Canada had paid out a substantial legal settlement after eight members of its 2018 men’s world junior team had allegedly sexually assaulted a woman.

“These stories are decades old, this has been going on for decades, but if we do not have an inquiry we will not get to the bottom of this,” Duncan said on Thursday. “In sport, abuse is decades old. It’s entrenched, it’s complex.”

Hockey Canada and other national sports organizations, including Gymnastics Canada, Boxing Canada, and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton have had significant turnover in their leadership due to toxic and abusive cultures.

Ottawa has taken steps to address safety in sport, including setting up a public registry of people sanctioned or suspended within the sport system, as well as new funding to screen national coaches.

But Laura Misener, professor and director of the School of Kinesiology at Western University, told Global News in May there’s still bigger moves that should be made.

“I think what we’re seeing is sort of this chipping away of small things and instead of really addressing the bigger systemic issues,” she said.

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Duncan announced on Jan. 26 that should would be taking a medical leave, but would remain as member of Parliament for Etobicoke North.

She called for an inquiry into Canada’s safe sport crisis the next day.

with files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press

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