Canada’s sports minister defends receipt of complaint from her integrity commissioner

Canada’s sports minister has defended the low number of complaints from the new sports integrity commissioner and called on the country’s sports bodies to sign up to a no-bullying sports program.

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

The Office of the Sports Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) began accepting complaints and reports on 22 June 2020.

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

“I am proud to see that although the Office of the Commissioner for Sports Integrity [OSIC] is in its first six months of establishment, is well on its way and has already launched investigations into certain sports,” St-Onge said in a statement on Thursday.

OSIC’s powers are limited to sports whose governing bodies have completed the process of signing its abuse-free sports program, the minister said.

Canadian Swimming was the 24th sports federation to accept the terms and become a signatory to OSIC on Thursday.

Pelletier said in an interview with the Canadian Press earlier this week that while a national sports organization may be a signatory, a provincial or territorial sports association or club may not be.

“Data in OSIC’s quarterly report shows that since the commissioner can only consider complaints from athletes who are members of OSIC, athletes from other levels [provincial or local] left behind,” explained St-Onge.

“That’s why it’s crucial that provinces and territories follow suit and get an independent complaint process, either by signing up with OSIC or creating their own.”

“Changing the culture of sport is a collective responsibility, which is why we continue to work with other jurisdictions, such as provinces and territories, to move towards a system that focuses on care and respect for all athletes. No one should be left behind.”

Jurisdiction issues

OSIC deals with issues under the Universal Code of Conduct to prevent and address abuse in sport, which covers grooming, neglect, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, as well as retaliation, failure to report abuse, false accusations and abuse of power.

Complaints against illegal sports betting, conflicts of interest, team selection or athlete assistance programs (carding) are not within the jurisdiction of OSIC.

“In the event that OSIC is unable to offer its services to an athlete due to jurisdictional issues, it offers referral services to the proper authorities,” St-Onge said.

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

National sports federations must join OSIC or risk losing federal funding.

“All federally funded organizations must register with OSIC as soon as possible so that all athletes, regardless of which organization they belong to, can submit complaints to the commissioner,” the minister said.

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