With a little more than seven months to go before the Rio Summer Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee has parted company with its de facto second-in-command, Caroline Assalian, one of the most influential women in Canadian amateur sport.
The departure of Ms. Assalian as chief sport officer late on Monday, along with executive director of operations Judy Crute and human resources manager Robert Cousin, comes five days after a report said senior members of the COC knew about sexual-harassment accusations levelled at the organization's former president, Marcel Aubut, but did little about them. The report painted a picture of an organization with widespread organizational shortcomings.
When asked for comment, a COC spokesman said the committee does not discuss internal staffing matters.
Ms. Assalian had been with the COC for decades, and the position of chief sports officer is a prestigious job. When reached by phone on Tuesday, Ms. Assalian declined to comment. Ms. Crute and Mr. Cousin could not be reached.
An independent investigation into the COC's workplace culture by Toronto labour lawyer Christine Thomlinson found deeply rooted problems in its governance, administration and harassment policy.
The COC has vowed to adopt all of Ms. Thomlinson's recommendations, which included improvements to the human resources structure and the establishment of an anonymous complaints mechanism and a "duty to report" harassment.
The review indicated a majority of the staff interviewed – sources say 100 to 140 people – said they experienced or witnessed harassment of a sexual or personal nature involving Mr. Aubut.
The senior staff Ms. Assalian leaves behind – including Eric Myles, the executive director of sport, and Derek Covington, the director of team services – are veteran Olympic hands. Much of the logistical heavy lifting has already been done for the Rio Games, but myriad details and last-minute problems such as travel arrangements, lodging and food, are still to come.
Among those who allege inappropriate behaviour on Mr. Aubut's part is gold-medal-winning diver Sylvie Bernier, a 1984 Olympian who played key roles in the Canadian delegation at three Olympics (she was chef de mission at Beijing 2008 and assistant chef de mission at the 2012 London Summer Games).
Ms. Bernier, a 51-year-old mother of three girls, alleged she was frequently subjected to verbal harassment by Mr. Aubut; she never filed a formal complaint.
"It happened. Honestly, I'm not that keen to talk about the past, I'd rather focus on what's ahead," Ms. Bernier said in an interview. "You can't let a good crisis go to waste."
In Ms. Bernier's view, the ongoing upheaval at the COC, which is the standard-bearer for amateur sport at the national level, does not have to be a bad thing.
"The COC has a chance to use this to broaden the discussion to include athletes, who are in a position of great vulnerability," Ms. Bernier said (she spoke to The Globe and Mail before the wave of departures). "If this only serves as an opportunity to let a blast of fresh air in, at least we'll have that."
Members of Canada's amateur sports establishment say COC president Tricia Smith, a former Olympic rower, and other senior COC officials are doing just that.
They describe a flurry of phone calls, face-to-face meetings and informal discussions over the past two weeks.
Several national sporting organizations – many of which depend on the COC for financing – have been assured that steps are being taken to correct the problems.
"They understand everyone is watching closely and having discussions about [the organization]," said Lorraine Lafrenière, a former COC official who now is the Coaching Association of Canada's chief executive. "The COC wields so much power. … I think now all the Canadian sports system is asking is for [it] to acknowledge that power and to act accordingly."
The Thomlinson report said "there are occasions when certain managers or members of the [senior leadership team] admitted to being in possession of information that suggested that harassment was occurring for COC staff."
In those cases, they either "did not do anything with this information" or recognize it was legally problematic, tried to minimize the impact on affected employees, or transmitted it up the chain of command – where it is "unclear as to whether this information was ever acted upon."
Among the recommendations Ms. Smith said last week that she will implement is creating new administrative positions.
The probe also established that concerns were raised about Mr. Aubut's alleged behaviour as far back as 2008 when he was a board member; in 2009, officials at VANOC informed a handful of COC officials and board members of a human resources review involving Mr. Aubut.
In 2011, then-CEO Jean Dupré wrote a letter admonishing the high-profile Quebec City lawyer to refrain from inappropriate touching and innuendo (current CEO Chris Overholt sat in on the meeting that prompted the letter).
Ms. Smith was asked during a conference call with reporters last week how maintaining the COC's existing leadership team was consistent with promises of organizational change.
Although she implied no changes were coming, she did allude to a process being in place "to make people accountable."
Mr. Aubut resigned from his post last October, shortly after The Globe revealed he was the subject of a formal harassment complaint, and has not spoken publicly about the COC since he offered an apology and vowed to seek counselling.
Representatives for Mr. Aubut refused to comment on Tuesday.