MPs are demanding the board meeting minutes – including of discussions held in secret – from a string of national sporting bodies including soccer, gymnastics, swimming and skating, to see how they handled any harassment claims and related lawsuits.
The Commons heritage committee voted unanimously this week to force the sporting associations to provide minutes going back almost five years, as part of their inquiry into safe sport.
The move – proposed by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather – intensifies the House probe into Canada’s sporting bodies and allegations of mistreatment and sexual harassment.
The committee has already obtained the board minutes of Hockey Canada as part of its investigation into Hockey Canada’s handling of alleged sexual assaults involving unnamed members of the 2018 and 2003 junior teams.
The 2018 case only came to light after the organization settled a $3.55-million lawsuit this spring, for an undisclosed amount. A woman alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by several players after a Hockey Canada gala that summer.
This week, the committee agreed to ask for the board minutes of Gymnastics Canada, Swimming Canada, Canada Soccer, Rugby Canada, Skating Canada and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton to see what was going on behind the scenes at the top of the organizations.
It has demanded board minutes going back to the beginning of 2018 – including of in camera discussions – and plans to scrutinize them in the new year, before calling the sporting bodies to give evidence.
Mr. Housefather said it is important for MPs to consider written evidence before calling in witnesses “or passing judgment of any kind.”
“Examination of the board minutes since 2018 will give committee members a far better understanding of how each of these organizations is handling issues of interest to the committee and Canadians, including athletes and former athletes and will let us determine next steps,” Mr. Housefather told The Globe and Mail.
“For example, do we have concerns about the internal workings of a particular national organization in terms of its handling of safe sport, allegations of harassment, handling of litigation?”
The committee also decided this week to pool resources with the House committee on the status of women, which is looking at the treatment of women and girls in sport.
Rachael Thomas, Conservative Heritage spokeswoman, said survivors of abuse should not have to appear before two committees, because of the stress it could cause them, and MPs should co-operate to listen to the testimony together.
MPs on the heritage committee also agreed to share their evidence – including the board minutes of sports associations – with their sister committee and to find ways of working more closely on their safe sport inquiries. They discussed the possibility of holding some joint committee hearings.
Hedy Fry, the chair of the heritage committee, said its investigation should not just look at sexual misconduct but at bullying, including of young gymnasts put under pressure to lose weight.
The Hockey Canada board minutes showed that after it was criticized by MPs in July for mishandling an investigation into alleged sexual assault, and for failing to disclose key information during testimony, the organization’s board met and decided it needed to shift the message with the Canadian public.
The perception of Hockey Canada and its National Equity Fund – a financial reserve built with player registration fees that the organization used to settle sexual-assault claims – needed to be reframed, the board decided.
With a report from Grant Robertson