Canada's sports minister expects workload wave for new integrity commissioner

·4 min read

Canada's sports minister expects a rush of complaints when the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner starts its mandate later this month.

The country's first sport integrity commissioner, Sarah-Eve Pelletier, begins receiving and addressing complaints June 20.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, established in 2017, has said it received 5,000 reports and sanctioned over 600 individuals in its first three years of operation.

In Pascale St-Onge's first five months as Canada's sports minister, allegations of maltreatment, sexual abuse or misuse of funds were levelled against at least eight national sport organizations in what she called a "crisis."

St-Onge established the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) as an independent entity to investigate reports of abuse.

"We anticipate a backlog also," St-Onge told The Canadian Press. "I know that there's going to be a lot of phone calls just because of the stories that we've heard in the past few weeks and months.

"I'm really shaken by the stories that we've heard.

"I'm happy that we're going to have an independent mechanism. I know that the first years are going to be hard, but what I hope is that we can have a future where athletes, as soon as situations happen, they know (where) they can turn to, so that we can intervene as fast as possible."

This year's federal budget provided $16 million to fund OSIC's operations over its first three years.

Sport Canada already contributes over $1 million annually to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), which provides arbitration and mediation to settle disputes.

By comparison, the U.S. Center for SafeSport's funding envelope in 2020 was $18.2 million, with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee contributing $11.5 million to it."

"We're going to watch closely how things go, if the resources are sufficient," St-Onge said. "We are already funding the SDRCC. This additional $16 million over the next three years, we'll see how it goes.

"This new mechanism is top priority for me, that it's efficient."

All national sport organizations will be bound by a universal code of conduct. St-Onge says she's been meeting with NSOs about safe sport.

"They all know that it's a real big problem, that I'm not going to stand by tolerating the situations and the stories that we've heard," the minister said.

"They all know that we're working toward a culture change, that they have to be part of it. We're going to raise the bar about what we expect from them, how they need to prevent those situations from happening."

St-Onge backs Canada Basketball's "Learn About The Signs" campaign announced Thursday in Ottawa during a Canadian Elite Basketball League game between the BlackJacks and Scarborough Shooting Stars. The minister attended the game.

The campaign, funded by Sport Canada, features an ad dramatizing toxic behaviours.

"We can't be in every gym in this country, but we can hold every gym accountable," Canada Basketball chief executive officer Michael Bartlett said.

"Our job has to be using our megaphone, our platform, our marketing muscle, our resources, to get the basketball community's attention collectively on what is acceptable and what is not, so they have the empowerment to call out the unacceptable behaviour, and have tools and resources available to them to know what to do in those situations.

"We're doing this because it's our job to lead on determining and sharing and promoting right from wrong."

Bartlett is prepared for the ad campaign to potentially prompt people to report instances of maltreatment and abuse in the sport of basketball.

"I won't be upset, or disappointed or embarrassed about our sector if all of a sudden instances start coming forward because I actually think in some cases, maybe this campaign will give people the confidence to come forward," he said.

"No sport is perfect. No ecosystem is perfect. There is a values disconnect that exists everywhere that we can't control, but we can do something about it.

"I want our sport to be leading the way in doing something about it if something is brought forward to us. Creating that confidence marker in the basketball community is a goal here."

Said St-Onge: "It's a good sign that such a big organization like Canada Basketball is going to do something around that theme. In light of the latest stories that we've heard, one of the problems in the sports system is the culture of silence.

"People have stayed silent in front of those situations. Talking about it, it's a really important first step."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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