Sports integrity commissioner says only 34% complaints admissible in 1st annual report

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
Former sport minister and current Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan testified on Thursday before the heritage committee that she was told to "get back to what sport was about" when she asked if the government would still focus on safe sport following the elimination of the sport ministry. She went on to renew her call for a national public inquiry on safe sport in Canada, saying "the time is now." – Jun 15, 2023

The Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) has concluded its first year in operation, and just over one-third (34 per cent) of complaints of maltreatment in sports were deemed admissible for investigation.

Between June 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, the OSIC received 193 complaints of maltreatment, according to its first annual report released Wednesday. Of those, 66 were deemed admissible as they fall under the office’s jurisdiction.

As of June 30, the admissibility of nine complaints is still pending.

“This really speaks to what we’ve been saying over this first year as well, that need for a complete system, a system where every sport participant in Canada have a safe place, a safe place to go,” said commissioner Sarah-Eve Pelletier in an interview with Global News.

Of the complaints the office was not able to deal with, 50 per cent were referred to an alternative organization, like a provincial sport body or independent third-party investigator that have been established by various sport organizations.

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“There is still a big gap where 50 per cent of the cases have nowhere to go. And so we have as a collective to really work to close that gap,” Pelletier said.

The results are disappointing for safe sport advocates like Kim Shore of Gymnasts for Change, a grassroots group that’s collected stories of over 700 gymnasts. They are calling for a judicial inquiry into maltreatment allegations in Canadian sports.

You know, 200 complaints lodged, and at the end of the day, one is formally resolved. That is concerning,” Shore said.

I don’t know if it’s a matter of timing, if it was a matter of the type of complaint or the fact that the organization is really new and finding its footing. But I would say the results are underwhelming.”

Meanwhile, new Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough notes the government made it mandatory for all federally-funded sport organizations to become OSIC signatories by April 1 and is pleased to have seen this milestone achieved.

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“The creation of the Commissioner’s Office came at the request of national-level athletes who identified it as a necessary step towards safer sports environments, and I am confident that we are on the right path to creating a positive culture shift within the Canadian sport system,” Qualtrough said in a statement.

The purpose of OSIC is to prevent and address maltreatment in sports and influence positive cultural change. In addition to investigative and sanctioning powers, the office runs seminars and outreach for those involved in sports.

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Currently, OSIC only has the authority to investigate complaints in sports funded at the federal level, such as national-level teams for hockey and soccer, and with organizations that are signatories with the office.

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Federal government resumes funding to Hockey Canada

Since its creation, 86 federal sports agencies have become signatories. Most notably, for Hockey Canada, signing up with OSIC was a term in having its federal funding reinstated after it was pulled amid allegations the agency helped cover up sexual assault allegations involving the 2018 World Juniors Team.

These 86 organizations represent about 17,000 athletes.

Types of complaints

Of the 66 complaints that were deemed admissible, 25 per cent relate to psychological maltreatment, 17 per cent are for sexual maltreatment, 11 per cent for boundary transgressions and nine per cent are for physical maltreatment, the report said.

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Coaches overwhelmingly were the primary subject of complaints, making up 40 per cent of listed respondents. Board members are second at 17 per cent, followed by athletes at 16 per cent and management or administrators at 15 per cent.

The office is hoping to expand into covering provincial matters in the future. An agreement was signed earlier this year with Nova Scotia and OSIC hopes to bring that province’s sports under its umbrella by the end of the year.

Pelletier adds with hundreds of thousands of athletes participating in sport across many different levels she wants to see increased harmonization around complaint-reporting mechanisms in the future.

This could include a registry of individuals who are facing sanctions, so this information would not be obscured from different organizations and participants.

“Let’s say if you’re a parent and wanting to sign up your kid in a particular sport, that you don’t have to look, let’s say at 12 different places to know if you can safely go with one particular coach or something like that,” she said.

Shore says she agrees with Pelletier’s view that there needs to be more harmonization, but maintains investigative bodies should be made up of people outside the sport system.

“We have forever allowed sport to self-regulate, to self-police. And that’s a system that has greatly harmed athletes and has led to us to an entire sport system that really is doing nobody any good,” Shore said.

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The report also covers use of the Canadian Sport Helpline, which helps refer people to a service to have complaints addressed at all levels of sport. Forty-one per cent of these calls came from the club level in the past year, and 22 per cent from the provincial level. OSIC does not have jurisdiction in these areas, with the exception of volleyball.

The club level includes children’s sport organizations, with parents making a plurality of calls to the helpline. This is part of why Shore is advocating for further change.

This is not a sport issue. This is a human rights issue happening in sport. And we need human rights experts, child protection experts, legal experts who are not influenced by relationships and business opportunities in the sports system to get involved and to help us navigate the next steps,” she said.

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