No more excuses, passing the buck and endless government inquiries

In the past few weeks, Canadian sports have been in the news-but for all the wrong reasons.

First, it was Hockey Canada, with the horrific news that members of the 2018 gold-medal winning world juniors team allegedly sexually assaulted a young woman after a gala in London, Ont.

This quickly snowballed, with allegations emerging of yet another sexual assault in 2003 at the World Junior Championships. Police have opened investigations into both..

Then came Gymnastics Canada’s turn.

Five hundred gymnasts put their names to an open letter to the Minister of Sport requesting that its public funds be frozen because of its systemic “culture of abuse.”

This has now became a full-blown crisis, with the government in damage-control mode.

Federal funds have been suspended to both Hockey Canada and Gymnastics Canada. Parliamentary hearings have been launched and were ongoing last week.

MPs are trying to get to the bottom of it. Who knew what and when? Why was nothing ever done? How could this have happened?

The answer is the obvious and should be no surprise to anyone.

Lots of people knew. No one took decisive action. The buck was passed, non-disclosure agreements were probably signed and the system protected the abusers. The problems repeated and escalated.

It has even come out that Hockey Canada used a reserve fund generated through membership fees and investments to settle “historic sexual abuse” allegations out of court.

Apparently, Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit with the victim of the 2018 assault.

If you are getting déjà vu, you aren’t alone.

We have seen this all before with the Canadian Armed Forces sexual harassment and abuse scandal, also ongoing for years. Lots of people knew about it, but the system protected the abusers and there was no accountability.

It is no different with Sport Canada.

As we have learned from the Parliamentary probe, Sport Canada was informed of the 2018 sexual assault allegations very early on. It has now known for years.

The Minister of Sport, Pascale St. Onge, testified before parliament that Sport Canada had received “information” way back in 2018 that there was an allegation of a sexual nature, but that it did not have specific details or the power to investigate. Why did it not get them? That was its clear obligation at the time, rather than to put their heads down, cover their ears and chant, “See no evil, hear no evil.”

In a nutshell, the government knew, decided to look the other way and did absolutely nothing.

This is the definition of an institutional failure and goes to the absolute core of the problem.

When people with the authority to make a change know that abuse is occurring, and choose to look the other way, it enables the abuse to continue and violates their own obligations.

The notion that the government somehow had “no power” to investigate serious sexual assault allegations involving an organization that receives public funds is a lie and a total cop-out.

Enough is enough.

No more excuses, passing the buck and endless government inquiries.

It is time for real action.

The government must immediately appoint a retired senior judge commanding respect from the stakeholders and public (not a workplace investigator looking for future assignments) to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the Hockey Canada and Gymnastics Canada sexual assault and abuse allegations — no stone should be left unturned.

As part of this investigation, a review should be conducted of the polices and processes that exist in these organizations regarding the reporting and handling of sexual misconduct complaints. New, robust policies need to be implemented immediately where the focus is on accountability and action, not sweeping things under the rug.

The allegations to-date are likely the tip of the iceberg.

Over the next few weeks, we will probably hear more allegations, more cover-ups and more finger pointing.

But we can’t let this turn into what has happened with the Armed forces scandal. Years of expensive public inquiries, government commissioned reports, all ending in a whimper with no substantive action.

The government has an opportunity to bring in real changes now.

Hopefully, they will finally seize it.