Status of women committee passes motion for study on safety in sport

The standing committee on the status of women unanimously passed a motion Monday to undertake a study on the safety of women and girls in sport.

"There needs to be an in-depth study on the causes as to why there is still so many issues in changing the culture in sports," said Andréanne Larouche, a Bloc Québécois MP of Shefford, Que., and vice-chair of the committee.

"I witnessed discussions with Hockey Canada. And Hockey Canada is one thing, but we've seen in the past weeks that it goes beyond Hockey Canada. There are women who are in different sports — water polo, gymnastics and I could name many — that are talking about similar issues."

The motion for the public meeting was requested by four members of the committee, and comes amid calls for a federal inquiry from athletes in several embattled Canadian sports.

Hundreds of athletes have come forward this year to publicly report issues of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, and many, including more than 500 current and retired gymnasts, have been calling on the federal government to conduct an independent investigation into sport.

"Gymnasts for Change Canada welcomes today’s unanimous bipartisan decision from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women Chaired by Karen Vecchio and proposed by Andréanne Larouche," the organization said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

"The Committee will commence a comprehensive study into physical and emotional abuse in sport. Our journey, with the goal of a third party independent judicial investigation, will start on 17 November 2022 when athletes will be engaged as a part of the solution for more independent safer sport in Canada."

Last week, Gymnastics Canada announced its agreement to join Abuse-Free Sport, and work with the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which was created as a one-stop, independent complaint investigator. GymCan also hired McLaren Global Sport Solutions (MGSS) in June to analyze its national safe sport policies and procedures.

However, Gymnasts for Change have said that they don't view the OSIC or the McLaren review to be truly independent.

"I think we need an independent place where the victim can have the feeling they can, you know, talk about their abuse and in the safe space and with independent structure — out of the sports," Larouche told The Canadian Press.

Recently, four former members of Canada's women's water polo team filed a $5.5 million lawsuit against Water Polo Canada.

Larouche proposed the motion while Jenna Sudds, a Liberal MP of Kanata—Carleton, Ont., put forth an amendment to have the comprehensive study begin on Nov. 17, following the completion of a separate mental health study.

Sudds also presented an amendment to have the government provide a comprehensive response to the report, which was approved.

The committee also agreed to hold four meetings to hear testimonies and invited witnesses, including sport minister Pascale St-Onge, to testify.

"We wish, maybe, we can discuss with the minister … what is the vision for the rest of the sports? And what do you want to do for water polo, gymnastics and other sports. Not only for Hockey Canada," Larouche said.

It also will report its observations and recommendations to the House of Commons and have a list of witnesses put forth by Friday.

"I think what we see is only the beginning of the reflection," Larouche added. "It's not finished for sure, and we have to be a real reflection of what is the situation of women in sport right now in 2022 and what we can do to change this for real change of culture. Who can really protect victims — not only protect the image of the sports or the image of the association, but the victim."

— With files from Lori Ewing

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press