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Petition for an inquiry into widespread abuse in sports tabled in the House of Commons

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There was a further push Friday to undertake a comprehensive examination of what many say is Canada’s “broken” sport system.

NDP MP Brian Masse tabled a petition in the House of Commons calling on the Liberal government to undertake an independent public inquiry into widespread abuse at every level of Canadian sport.

“The time is right,” Masse told CBC. “Just exposing the problems doesn’t always provide the best solutions. That’s what an inquiry will do. It will come with recommendations, it’ll have resources to make sure that the abusers and the systemic issues are looked at and have real solutions.”

The petition, signed by more than 700 Canadians, from every province and territory, was initiated by retired University of Windsor Sport Management Professor Victoria Paraschak. It states that “children and youth have the right to participate in any sport in Canada free of maltreatment, abuse, and harm; Athletes’ human rights are being violated with the current sport system approach, which lacks a transparent mechanism completely independent of sport to address maltreatment complaints.

“I think it’s pretty clear that sport organizations be it NSOs, universities or local clubs are not dealing effectively with it,” Paraschak, who is also a member of Scholars Against Abuse in Canadian Sport, says “How humiliating, as Canadians who love sport and believe in sport to know that this kind of abuse and these accounts that keep coming up have been going on for 40-50 years or longer and we have not been able to solve this dilemma.”

The petition is the latest push for a public inquiry and comes after what has been a months long reckoning that has laid bare the extent of abuse in Canadian sport along with institutional failings in preventing and dealing with it.

WATCH | Former sport minister wants leaders to do better on preventing abuse in sport:

petition for an inquiry into widespread abuse in sports tabled in the house of commons

Former sport minister says leaders ‘want to do better’ on preventing abuse in sport

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Former sport minister and Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan says leaders in sports ‘welcome scrutiny.’

Elite athletes outlined abuse

Elite athletes from nearly a dozen sports have outlined the abuse they have suffered both in open letters and in disturbing testimony on Parliament Hill.

Earlier this week, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continued to hear powerful testimony including from former national team gymnast and co-founder of Gymnasts For Change Ryan Sheehan, who testified about being sexually abused by a team trainer as a teenager.

“The organization that my family and I entrusted with my physical and mental well-being for two decades could not even do the bare minimum to investigate my case unless forced and then attempted to silence me,” Sheehan told politicians. “It is the height of arrogance to say we already know everything. We call for a national inquiry that can compel testimony and unravel the complexities of funding conflicts of interest and corruption.”

The loudest cries for an inquiry came last month following CBC News and Sports ongoing Shattered Trust investigation, which has chronicled abuse at the local level, where most Canadian children participate in sport. It revealed close to 300 coaches — mostly at the local level — have been convicted of sexual offences against a minor under their care since 1998, across multiple sports, provinces and jurisdictions.

Masse insists an inquiry is the only mechanism to affect real change.

“We need a preventative approach to justice for survivors — that examines these problems systematically — not on a case-by-case basis” he said in a statement in the House of Commons. 

“Together, I proudly stand with these leaders and survivors in sport to request that this government call a judicial inquiry — completely independent of sport — and that outlines a clear and consistent approach that is fair and immediate for these survivors.”

A blonde woman wearing a black top and blazer stands in front of a microphone with a Canadian flag in the background.
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge and the Liberal government have to this point rejected calls for an inquiry. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The government has so far rejected calls for an inquiry. In January Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge told CBC, “Well, a national inquiry would not address the issue in local and community support or the provincial sport program. So we not only need one investigation, we need many investigations in each sport where these situations happen so that we can address it directly and specifically.” 

CBC reached out to St-Onge about Friday’s petition for comment. She is still not committing to an inquiry, however, her secretary pointed CBC News to comments made in February where the minister told the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that she is “assessing” the possibility of an inquiry.

“Just to be clear regarding calls for an inquiry, it’s not a matter of if we need to do something, but how. My goals are to do justice to survivors in a safe, trauma-focused way, and then to take stock of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done to ensure the safety of all participants in sport. We are currently assessing the best ways to achieve both of these goals”

Masse hopes his petition, which the government has six weeks to respond to, will be the final push needed.

“It’s a missed opportunity. And that’s often the case when governments feel that perhaps they might be somewhat responsible because we are seeing now with some of these organizations they really have no accountability.” 

“But I would say put aside that partisanship lens or that government lens and turn this entirely over to a public inquiry to give us better advice and recommendations. And that takes courage to do that because you’re giving up some ownership of it. And I would encourage the minister to do that because again, if we don’t clean this up properly, then we’re just going to come back again. And it’s an unnecessary risk for our young people.”