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Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 9.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal government is suspending funding to Gymnastics Canada after a flurry of abuse allegations and calls from athletes for an investigation into the national sports organization.

A group called Gymnasts for Change Canada sent an open letter to federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge this week. The document, sent on behalf of more than 500 gymnasts, calls for the government to freeze GymCan’s funding, as it did recently for Hockey Canada after that organization was beset with abuse allegations of its own. The gymnasts are also calling for an independent investigation into “the systemic culture of abuse that prevails in Canadian gymnastics.”

Ms. St-Onge said in a statement late Thursday that she informed GymCan its funding would be frozen until it signs on with the new Office of Sports Integrity Commissioner, which was set up to perform independent investigations of claims of abuse and maltreatment in sport.

“I understand the sense of urgency that motivates these athletes and I share their call for meaningful change,” she said. “It has been my main focus since I was appointed, to work with the tools I have and move towards solutions that encompass our sport system.”

GymCan receives more than $2-million a year from the federal government, which covers roughly a third of the organization’s annual operating costs.

Amelia Cline, a lawyer and former gymnast who is a member of the group that sent the open letter, said Friday that she was “cautiously optimistic” about the government’s move.

Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge wants to break the culture of silence around abuse in sports

It’s progress for gymnasts, she added, but there is still a long way to go. “We’re certainly encouraged by the funding freeze, obviously. That was something we were asking for,” she said.

Ms. Cline, 32, is also the representative plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against GymCan and half a dozen provincial governing bodies. She alleges she experienced verbal, physical and psychological abuse in her years as a gymnast in British Columbia.

She said the gymnasts who signed the letter hadn’t received any formal acknowledgment from Ms. St-Onge, and instead heard of the freeze from the media.

“We’re still waiting for any type of response to our letter directly,” she said. “Our second request in that letter was the investigation, and from our perspective that’s really the central key element that needs to happen.”

Speaking in Stratford, PEI, on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on GymCan to ensure the safety of its athletes.

“They should be worried about satisfying parents across the country that they’re keeping their kids safe, that they are an organization promoting the kinds of values, the kind of safe environment that every parent has a right to expect for their kids, that we want kids to model,” he said.

GymCan chief executive Ian Moss said on Friday that the organization is committed to joining the Office of Sports Integrity Commissioner as soon as possible. He said more than 55 Canadian national sport organizations are actively working together with lawyers and the office’s operator, the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), to finalize a service agreement.

“It is unfortunate that we have this cloud, and we obviously are committed to addressing it head on,” he said.

GymCan recently announced that it had commissioned McLaren Global Sport Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in sports governance and integrity matters, to do a “culture review” of the organization. GymCan added that it had discussed this course of action with the Ministry of Sport and Ms. St-Onge’s office.

But Gymnasts For Change Canada is insisting that the review not be financed and overseen by the very organization it would be investigating.

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