Canada’s safe sport program still needs changes, says Olympic champion Jennifer Heil

Three-time Olympian Jennifer Heil is calling on the federal government to make changes to its latest safe sport program, saying it still lacks the independence needed to adequately protect all Canadian athletes from abuse and discrimination.

“We really need to see that changes are made in order to protect vulnerable athletes and stakeholders,” said Heil, a freestyle skier who won gold at the 2006 Olympics in Turin and silver at the Games. of 2010 in Vancouver.

Unless those changes are made, she said, “the government is knowingly allowing the status quo to continue, that is, policies without protection.”

Heil recently wrote to the government on behalf of 12 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, asking for better protections for victims of abuse in Canadian sport.

“These minimum standards include a centralized arbitration process completely independent of national sports organizations; victim-centered safeguards and funding; a centralized sanctions database; and a single code of conduct with consistent language and definitions. with supporting educational resources,” the letter reads. read.

Response from the Minister of Heritage

Following the release of this letter, federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced last week that the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada would be tapped to provide athletes and government-funded sport organizations federal an independent place to report cases of harassment, abuse and discrimination.

It’s a decision that, according to Adam van Koeverden, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, resolves the issues raised by Heil and the other athletes.

“From the perspective of an athlete showing up, it’s that safe, independent, independent one-stop-shop that athlete organizations are asking for,” said van Koeverden, himself a four-time Olympian who won gold at the sprint. kayaking at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

Heil said the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada is well placed to take on the job because of its experience in handling anti-doping cases, but added that it cannot really do its job unless the government requires that all national sports organizations sign. in the safe sport program.

Currently, she said, organizations can choose to hire their own safe sport manager instead.

“The question is, if your sport hires the safe sport officer, is that a truly independent process? And it’s not,” she said.

Heil added that many athletes do not trust the system enough to report abuse, as they have already seen cases where victims have been silenced or a supposedly independent investigation has not been carried out by a third party. .

“There is an inequitable distribution of who is protected,” she said. “It’s actually quite complicated to navigate. It depends on your sport, it just depends on pure luck at the moment.”

Even if a sports organization hires its own safe sport manager, its athletes will be able to take their case to the SDRCC without worrying about a conflict of interest, van Koeverden said, adding that he believes “100%” that the system is independent and accessible to all athletes.

“I think it supports every athlete,” he said. “I think it gives every athlete that security.”

While many Canadian athletes have told “heartbreaking stories,” the country now has a chance to become a leader in addressing and preventing discrimination, abuse and harassment, van Koeverden said.

“This is an opportunity for us to show the world how a country creates safe spaces, how a country deals with situations that require resolution,” he said, noting how Canada has become a leader world leader in the fight against doping after sprinter Ben Johnson was caught using steroids at the 1988 Olympics.

“Canadians tend to be revolutionary. We have consistently shown leadership in the sport and I think this is another example of that.”

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