Canada's sports minister defends her integrity commissioner's complaint intake

Canada's sports minister defended the low intake of complaints by the new sports integrity commissioner and urged the country's sport bodies to sign onto the abuse-free sport program.

Pascale St-Onge appointed Sarah-Eve Pelletier as the country's first sport integrity commissioner amid a recent wave of former and current athletes pointing to toxic cultures in their sport and demanding change.

The office of the sports integrity commissioner (OSIC) began receiving complaints and reports June 22, 2020.

OSIC admitted 25 per cent in the first quarter and 33 per cent in the second quarter, citing jurisdictional reasons for the low percentage.

"I am proud to see that although the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) is in its first six months of creation, it is on the right track and has already started inquiries into certain sports," St-Onge said Thursday in a statement.

OSIC's authority is limited to sports whose governing bodies have completed the process of becoming signatories to its abuse-free sport program, the minister said.

Swimming Canada was the 24th sports federation to agree to terms and become an OSIC signatory Thursday.

Pelletier told The Canadian Press in an interview earlier this week that while a national sport organization may be a signatory, the sport's provincial or territorial association or a club might not be.

"The data in OSIC’s quarterly report shows that because the commissioner can only review complaints made by athletes who are members of OSIC, athletes from other levels (provincial or local) are left behind," St-Onge explained.

"That’s why it is crucial that provinces and territories must follow suit and acquire an independent process to file complaints whether by signing with OSIC or by creating their own.

"Changing the culture of sport is a collective responsibility, which is why we continue to work with the other jurisdictions, like provinces and territories, to move towards a system that is focused on caring and respect for all athletes. No one should be left behind."

OSIC deals in matters under a Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport, which covers grooming, neglect, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, as well as retaliation, failure to report maltreatment, false allegations and misuse of power.

Illegal sports betting, conflict of interest, team selection or athlete assistance program (carding) appeals are not under OSIC's authority.

"In the case when OSIC cannot offer its services to an athlete because of jurisdictional issues, it does offer services to redirect the complaint to the right authorities," St-Onge said.

"That’s why we need to have mechanisms in all jurisdictions, that is the collective next step. Our goal is that no athlete falls through the cracks."

National sport federations must sign on to OSIC or risk losing federal funding.

"All federally funded organizations must sign up with OSIC as quickly as possible so that all athletes, no matter what organization they belong to, can file complaints with the commissioner," the minister said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press