UVic threatens disciplinary action if athletes speak about coach investigation

VANCOUVER — Three rowers who accused coach Barney Williams of harassment and verbal abuse say the University of Victoria has threatened them with disciplinary action if they speak about the results of the investigation.

An appeal process examining the allegations has ended and athletes were provided with a report Thursday, but they said in a joint statement they don’t feel comfortable saying anything about it.

A letter sent to the students warned that the hearing report, decision and all records pertaining to the complaint are to be kept in the “strictest confidence.”

“The end of the formal complaint process does not signal the end of confidentiality obligations. A failure to comply with the provisions of the policy may result in disciplinary action by the university,” the letter said.

Lily Copeland is one of the complainants and has alleged Williams criticized her weight and appearance and yelled at her in a small, locked room. She said the treatment shattered her confidence and she began cutting herself and throwing up her food.

Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. He has previously said he’s committed to respecting the confidentiality of the probe and he regards coaching as a privilege. Some members of the team credit him with their success.

He returned to coaching at the University of Victoria last month even though the process was still underway.

Team member Chanel Mandap said Williams was coaching on Friday. She said she hasn’t been told anything by the coach or the university about the outcome of the investigation.

“The team has been lacking clarity during this entire process and as a result there have been a lot of emotions around the whole situation,” she said, adding the team is polarized.

“A lot of people who are currently on the team had very positive experiences. These positive experiences don’t negate the negatives that our former teammates have experienced.”

The university faced criticism in 2016 for warning a sexual assault complainant she could be disciplined if she spoke about an investigative report with anyone other than her family, lawyer, counsellor or police.

At the time, the school said students are free to tell their stories, but it cautioned against disclosing third-party information. The case was cited when the former British Columbia government brought in a law to require universities to have sexual assault policies.

In a statement Friday, the University of Victoria disagreed that it “threatened” disciplinary action. It said it has a responsibility to explain to parties their obligations under school policy, including possible consequences of breaching confidentiality.

“People can share their own personal experiences,” said spokeswoman Denise Helm.

“The investigation itself, with information provided by the complainant, witnesses and the respondent, is subject to the confidentiality provisions of the policy. The findings by an independent investigator and by an external adjudicator who conducts an appeal are likewise confidential.”

Employment lawyers said confidentiality is an important part of a fair process but questioned whether universities would follow through with discipline.

“What is the school going to do?” asked Richard Johnson, a partner with Kent Employment Law in Vancouver. “They may have a policy where they sanction people for disclosing that they were in a complaint process. Are you really going to victimize a student twice?”

The school should be very careful not to come down too hard on complainants and should instead explain that confidentiality can be beneficial to them as well, he said.

Malcolm MacKillop, a partner with Shields O’Donnell MacKillop in Toronto, said he has seen cases where a workplace has fired an employee for speaking publicly about an investigation.

“Students are not employees,” he added. “I’m not aware of any case where a student was actually thrown out of a university because they decided to go public on an investigation. Imagine if the university actually did it.”

MacKillop said he was sympathetic to the argument that universities are public institutions that receive taxpayer funding and bear more responsibility to be accountable than private companies.

“You’re talking about public trust, public funds,” he said. “There is a feeling of high-handedness in threatening students. It creates a potential fear.”

The three athletes add in their statement that they’re feeling positive about moving forward “under Safesport policy and process.”

Rowing Canada Aviron, the body that certifies coaches in the country, is also investigating allegations against Williams. The organization has adopted Safesport procedures, which are policies for an athletic environment free of abuse, harassment or discrimination.

Safesport procedures also set out a process to hold coaches to account, said Jennifer Walinga, a Royal Roads University professor and Commonwealth Games gold medallist in rowing.

“They’re crucial,” she said. “Otherwise, you don’t really protect the athlete.”

The University of Victoria does not have a code of conduct for coaches but said it is developing one. It also said it’s creating an athlete support officer position who will be responsible for developing education programs and support services for varsity athletes.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whatever snow may possibly fall in Red Deer on the weekend will melt when it hits the warm ground, says meteorologist Kyle Fougere with Environment and Climate Change Canada. (File photo by ADVOCATE staff)
Weather expected to get warmer next week in Red Deer

It’s going to be a cold weekend, according to Environment Canada. Saturday… Continue reading

Retired city manager Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the Molly Banister Drive right-of-way at Tuesday's public hearing. He warns of future gridlock if the extension is removed by city council. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Former Red Deer city manager warns killing the Molly Banister Drive extension is ‘a terrible mistake’

Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the road alignment at next week’s public hearing

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

A Red Deer County man was arrested for drug possession by Innisfail RCMP on April 19. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Property crime and drugs top Red Deer RCMP priorities in new plan

2020-2022 Policing Priorities Plan going to city council on Monday

RCMP estimate about 500 people gathered on the weekend near Garrington Bridge along the Red Deer River, in a July 28, 2020 story. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Second person charged for alleged assault at anti-racism rally in Red Deer

A second person is facing charges following an alleged assault during an… Continue reading

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Don’t try to teach a turtle tricks

I got Smokey at Woolworths. Woolworths was an awesome department store downtown,… Continue reading

New voluntary measures, including the encouragement of more mask wearing, have been introduced in the Edmonton health zone. “Red Deer has been very fortunate to have relatively low case numbers . . . relative to the rest of the province and the country,” says Mayor Tara Veer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
POLL: Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball World Series Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Most Read