Sports Minister St-Onge says there is “lack of consistency” in Canada’s safe sports system
Canada’s sports minister said on Monday jurisdictional issues continue to hamper the government’s ability to implement a meaningful safe sports system that would adequately protect hundreds of thousands of Canadian children, but dismissed the suggestion that her government was trying to shift responsibility to provincial and local authorities.
“I don’t give anyone the buck,” Pascal St-Onge told the Status of Women Committee, which studies women and girls in sport. “The reality is the sports system touches multiple jurisdictions and I cannot fix it on my own.
“There has to be a coherence in this system and what we’re seeing is that right now there is no coherence. And that’s part of the things we need to work on.”
In recent weeks, the committee has heard testimony from a parade of athletes who outlined stories of abuse they had suffered.
St-Onge said any kind of abuse in sport is unacceptable, but said her department and the federal government are only responsible for about 3,700 top athletes who compete at the national level.
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St-Onge pointed to a recently released CBC investigation and acknowledged that’s not where most of the abuse takes place.
“The vast majority of cases of abuse and maltreatment occur outside of the federal sphere,” St-Onge said. “They take place in local clubs, leagues and gyms, all of which are the responsibility of provincial, territorial and local authorities.
“This harsh reality was recently pointed out in a major investigative report by CBC. Canadians across the country are asking us to fill this gap.”
In 2019, an investigation by CBC News and Sports found that more than 200 coaches — mostly at the local level — have been charged with sex offenses against a minor in their care since 1998. Since then, CBC has found that an additional 83 coaches have been charged or convicted across multiple sports, provinces and jurisdictions.
St-Onge told the committee she will continue to urge her provincial and territorial counterparts to act when they meet at this weekend’s Canada Games, which are being held on Prince Edward Island.
“I will emphasize the urgency for all of us to work together towards better protection, better alignment of sister systems and implementation of proven grievance mechanisms,” she said. “As we have seen, there is a huge gap in the system. It needs to be closed as soon as possible.”
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Last year, Ottawa committed $16 million to safe sport over the next three years. The money went towards establishing and operating the Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), an independent bureau to investigate athlete grievances that all state-funded sports organizations must join by April this year or risk losing federal funding.
So far only 43 out of around 70 National Sport Organizations (NSO) have registered. St-Onge said she is urging provinces and territories to either register with the federal office of OSIC or create a similar grievance mechanism themselves.
St-Onge also continued to deflect calls for an independent inquiry that would examine how and why Canada’s safe sports system is failing. Calls for such an investigation have come from current and former athletes, Canada’s former Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan, and leading scientists concerned with safe sport.
“My goal is to do justice to the survivors in a safe and trauma-sensitive way, to take stock of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done,” St-Onge said. “We are currently examining how we can best achieve both of these goals.”