May 24th, 2024

Qualtrough picks a former chief justice from Ontario to lead sport commission

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on May 9, 2024.

Federal Minister of Sport and Physical Activity, Carla Qualtrough speaks during a FIFA World Cup 2026 update in Vancouver, Tuesday, April 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

A former chief justice from Ontario has been tasked with confronting abuse and maltreatment in sport in Canada.

Lise Maisonneuve was introduced by Canadian sports minister Carla Qualtrough on Thursday as the head of the Future of Sport in Canada Commission.

“Justice Maisonneuve has a strong background in the administration of justice and managing complex processes,” Qualtrough said. “She comes to this role completely independent from sport.”

The commission’s job is to delve into what Qualtrough and her predecessor Pascale St-Onge have called a safe-sport crisis in Canada.

“Sport is a source of national pride for Canadians,” Maisonneuve said at a press conference in Ottawa. “Anything which undermines the integrity of the sport systems affects us all.

“The commission is about people in sports. We are here to listen, to consider, and to help chart a safer future for sport in Canada.”

The 18-month commission will consult sport bodies and survivors of abuse on how to improve the national sport system. It will produce two reports and hold a national summit.

When those consultations will start and how much of the commissioner’s work can be viewed by the public was still to be determined.

“We are meeting for the first time today,” Maisonneuve said. “All of these questions will be answered in due course.”

The 18-month timeline takes the commission to the end of 2025. The final report will include recommendations on how to make sport safer and help athletes in the disclosure of and healing from abuse.

“We have committed as a government to respond to their report within six months and take immediate action as soon as their report is tabled,” Qualtrough said.

This year’s federal budget provided $10.6 million over two years to the commission.

Some academics, former athletes and former sports minister Kirsty Duncan have called for a public inquiry into sport.

Maisonneuve’s eight-year term as chief justice of the Ontario court of justice ended in May 2023. The judge from Timmins, Ont., was the second woman appointed to that position.

Former Canadian Centre For Ethics in Sport chair Andrew Pipe and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection’s director of education Noni Classen will be Maisonneuve’s advisers.

“The appointees are really going to have to be bold,” said Amelia Cline, managing director of Athletes Empowered, which was formerly Gymnasts For Change.

“They don’t have the backing of a national inquiry. They don’t have the mechanisms that would give them the power to compel testimony and documents.

“We know how allergic the sports system is to accountability, so this commission is probably going to live and die by the commissioner’s willingness to dig and to expose where they aren’t being provided with the adequate information they’re seeking.”

Cline was among several former athletes who testified in parliamentary committee hearings in 2022 and early 2023 about the physical, mental and sexual abuse they experienced in their sport.

MPs were told the pressure on national sports organizations to produce medals, and get funding to do that, contributed to toxic environments in which athlete welfare took a back seat.

Qualtrough continued to be questioned Thursday on her refusal to establish a public inquiry.

An inquiry operates under terms set in the Inquiries Act and requires cabinet approval. Often led by judges, commissioners have power to subpoena witnesses, take evidence under oath and request documents.

“Compelling victims to tell their story was not “¦ a trauma-informed approach,” Qualtrough said. “Having a full-blown public inquiry would have resulted in months and months of negotiation with provinces to agree on terms of references, that ultimately, I did not have the confidence we could arrive at.”

Cline believed an inquiry could avoid re-traumatizing survivors.

“There’s nothing in the Inquiries Act that prevents that from being a trauma-informed, empowering process for people,” she said. “It’s actually survivors who have been asking for an inquiry because we know just how reticent the sports system is.”

Qualtrough compares the sport commission’s work to that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which between 2007 and 2015 investigated harm caused by residential schools, and proposed both solutions to that harm and prevention of further abuse of Indigenous Peoples.

She was reappointed sports minister in 2023 after her first stint in the portfolio between 2015 and 2017.

Qualtrough opened Thursday’s press conference with an apology to athletes and sport participants who have been abused, particularly those maltreated as children.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” Qualtrough said. “I’m sorry the sport system didn’t protect you or hold to account those who hurt you. What you experienced should not have happened.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2024.

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