Abuse-Free Sport registry made public by Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner

The Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner has made public a registry of people barred or provisionally suspended from participating in sport.

The establishment of a public searchable database of individuals who have been sanctioned under the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent Abuse and Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS), or whose eligibility to participate in sport has been restricted, was announced in June 2023 by former federal sports minister Pascale St-Onge.

The purpose of the registry is to alert organizations and prevent the rehiring of abusers. Sport bodies quietly parting company with abusers, which allowed them to be hired elsewhere, was a common complaint of athletes at parliamentary committee safe-sport hearings in 2022 and 2023.

The registry, maintained by OSIC, includes a person’s name, province, sport, category and nature of violation, sanction or provisional suspension, and date and length of sanction.

The registry contained Thursday the names of five sanctioned individuals and another 21 provisionally ineligible or being monitored for conduct that contravened the UCCMS.

“The main reason behind publishing the Abuse-Free Sport Registry is to reduce risks to the safety of all members of the sport community,” OSIC interim commissioner André Lepage said Thursday in a statement.

“It provides another tool to the general public with regard to safeguarding against maltreatment, while also contributing to the deterrence and denunciation of maltreatment and helping prevent reoccurrence.”

The registry “is not a comprehensive list of all individuals named in all reports received by the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, nor does it include respondents subject to other types of sanctions and provisional measures, such as education and training,” the statement said.

Soerensen included

Figure skater Nikolaj Soerensen is included in the list of people subject to provisional measures, although he competed for Canada in this month’s world figure skating championship in Montreal.

An American coach and former figure skater accused Soerensen of sexually assaulting her in 2012 and filed a complaint with OSIC. Soerensen denied those allegations, which have not been proven in court.

Gymnasts For Change founder Amelia Cline, a lawyer who spoke to parliamentary committees about the physical and verbal abuse she endured at the hands of coaches as a young athlete, says the registry doesn’t go far enough.

“It certainly doesn’t capture the full picture of the abuse that’s happening in sport across this country,” Cline said. “We know just from the work that we have done in our organization at Gymnasts For Change, there are thousands of complaints.

“We know that many of the complaints that we are personally involved with are not reflected on this registry, so it’s not an accurate picture. It’s not giving parents of children and other athletes in this country the ability to make informed decisions about where they put their child and whether that child is going to be safe in that environment.”

Cline points out sports organizations have other avenues to process complaints via third-party companies or law firms that offer those services, and that process keeps names out of OSIC’s registry.

“If you give an organization the option to either have their personnel discipline history disclosed publicly or not, from a PR perspective, from a liability perspective, all things militate in favour of not having that publicly disclosed.

“History tells us that these organizations don’t favour transparency. Until you deal with that competing system, and you basically insist that everyone goes through the OSIC process, you’re not going to have a complete mechanism. You’re not going to have full disclosure of all the abuse complaints that are happening in the country.”

‘Key enforcement tool’

While St-Onge’s predecessor Carla Qualtrough says there will be a “Future of Sport in Canada Commission” to tackle safe-sport issues, Cline is among those lobbying for a national inquiry.

“My number 1 priority is sport system reform that prioritizes keeping our kids safe. The launch of the Abuse-Free Sport Registry is an important step in the creation of the transparent, accountable, and safe sport system that Canadians deserve,” said Qualtrough.

“This registry is a key enforcement tool for the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and address maltreatment in sport. All national sport organizations that are funded by the Government of Canada are signatories to the Code. Athletes, parents, clubs, organizations and other sport participants can use this information to make informed and safe sport choices.”

All federally funded sports bodies must be signatories of OSIC, and thus subject to the UCCMS, or risk losing that money. Only OSIC and designated representatives of signatory organizations had access to the registry before Thursday.

“A public registry is paramount to protect participants and deliver safer experiences in sport programs at all levels and in all contexts, which is the ultimate goal of the Abuse-Free Sport program,” said Marie-Claude Asselin, who is the chief executive officer of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.

“Its launch today is the fruit of several months of research, analysis and design to ensure compliance with applicable law, and particularly Canadian privacy laws.”

Cases involving minors or other vulnerable people will be considered for inclusion in the registry on a case-by-case basis “taking into account the sensitivity of personal information,” said OSIC’s website.

“Particular consideration will also be given to foster the protection of the identity of individuals directly impacted by the UCCMS violation or other relevant third parties.”

OSIC was created by St-Onge in response to a wave of complaints and reports of abuse and harassment in sports. Lepage was named interim commissioner when the first commissioner Sarah-Eve Pelletier resigned earlier this year.

OSIC began hearing complaints June 20, 2022, but its jurisdiction was limited early until sport bodies became signatories. As of Oct. 31, 2023, it had received 271 complaints and reports since it opened with 118 deemed admissible or pending admissible for a 43 per cent intake.

OSIC looks for alternatives for cases not under its jurisdiction. It reported it did so for 24 of 34 cases between July 1 and Oct. 31, 2023 and a referral was made in half of those cases.

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