Erica Elizabeth Wiebe, left, of Canada wins against Epp Mae of Estonia in the bronze match of women’s 76kg category of the Wrestling World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, October 24, 2018. (Tibor Illyes/MTI via AP)

Erica Elizabeth Wiebe, left, of Canada wins against Epp Mae of Estonia in the bronze match of women’s 76kg category of the Wrestling World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, October 24, 2018. (Tibor Illyes/MTI via AP)

Wiebe and teammates appeal to Duncan for an independent body for safe sport

TORONTO — Erica Wiebe knows how Olympic dreams can be threatened with a complaint to the wrong person.

The Olympic wrestling gold medallist said is lucky to have had “amazing coaches and amazing experiences” in her sport, but has seen teammates struggle around safe sport issues.

Canadian wrestlers are appealing to Kirsty Duncan to establish a third-party body to handle cases of harassment and abuse, and on Monday sent an open letter to Canada’s Minister of Science, Sport and People with Disabilities claiming conflict of interest and inconsistency in the current system have created an environment of fear and mistrust.

“Sometimes when you have a problem with your boss, it’s really awkward to go to your boss and complain about it,” Wiebe said. “And so, if you’re having an issue with your coach, and your coach is employed by your CEO, we’ve seen it so many times where organizations are protecting the coaches, they’re protecting their employees rather than their athletes.

“So at times it doesn’t feel safe or comfortable for an athlete to come forward because we don’t want to put our goal, our lifelong dream of making an Olympic Games in jeopardy. Sometimes it’s this fear of keeping the status quo, rather than shifting the boat, because there’s been no independent body that we can go to and feel safe.”

Safe sport has been governed through the Sport Canada Accountability Framework since it was implemented in 1996 in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal involving former junior hockey coach Graham James. Sports must have a safe sport policy, and a designated individual to handle complaints, in place to receive government funding.

But critics complain policies aren’t adequately applied.

“We want the minister to know that athletes support an independent body to handle safe sport issues,” Jasmine Mian, a 2016 Olympian and chair of Wrestling Canada’s athlete council, said in a release. “It’s not only in the best interest of athletes, but also in the best interest of the NSO. What constitutes safe sport should be consistent across Canada.”

The lack of a third party facilitator, Mian said, makes athletes fearful of reporting issues to their sport organizations.

“They worry about how reporting a serious issue would affect their reputation, team selection and funding,” Mian said. “Even if an NSO has a fair process for reviewing and handling these serious issues, athletes may not perceive that the process is free of bias. Coaches and parents often feel the same way. You don’t want to raise an issue if you think it could adversely affect an athlete’s career.”

Duncan created the Working Group on Gender Equity in Sport in May, and safe sport is part of the group’s mandate.

The wrestlers’ initiative came from a couple of Wrestling Canada workshops earlier this month in Vancouver, where athletes discussed safe sport issues including code of conduct requirements for coaches with external facilitator Amanda Stanec. One of the major issues was the need for an independent body.

Wiebe, a 29-year-old from Stittsville, Ont., defeated Guzel Manyurova of Kazakhstan in wrestling’s 75kg event in Rio. She hopes her voice can contribute to a safer sports environment.

“Now I have this position as an Olympic champion, as somebody who has a voice in Canadian sport, I feel like I have a little more power than even I did two years ago, and so for me, it’s essential to use it in the right way,” she said.

She hopes wrestling can pave the way for other sports to follow.

“When I think about the role models and pioneers of women’s wrestling, the women that came before me were leaders on the mat, in demanding an equal spot in the sport,” she said. “It’s still this perceived masculine terrain, and yet women in Canada are global leaders in the sport of wrestling, we’re feared among the world because of what we do on the mat.

“And so from a Canadian sport context, when I think about my teammates, and the people who have come before me, they set an example on what it means to be Canadian, and what it means to be a woman and what role you can have in society. And this whole team, the men and women, have supported this initiative and would love to see it happen.”

Wiebe commended Wrestling Canada, which recently formed the national Safety First Task Force to review recommendations stemming from an independent review of the coaching culture in the sport. The NSO had hired lawyer David Bennett to review coaching practices on the heels of two anonymous complaints of sexual abuse.

“They’re trying to do the right thing, and they’re trying to move this forward. I really think that they can,” she said.

While the sentencing of U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar might have been a watershed moment for sexual harassment and assault in sport, Canada has had its share of high-profile cases. Marcel Aubut resigned as COC president in 2015 after an investigation over numerous sexual harassment complaints.

In June, several former members of Canada’s ski team spoke publicly about the abuse suffered at the hands of former coach Bertrand Charest in the 1990s. Charest was convicted last year of 37 offences of sexual assault and exploitation.

On Friday, the sexual assault trial of former Canadian women’s gymnastics coach Dave Brubaker wrapped up in Sarnia, Ont. Brubaker has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault and one count of sexual exploitation, and Justice Deborah Austin is expected to deliver her decision on Feb. 13.

AthletesCAN, an independent athlete organization, also supports the implementation of a independent body with a universal policy.

“As the association of Canada’s national team athletes, the number of athletes we here from, support and represent through this difficult process of dealing with issues of abuse, harassment, discrimination and maltreatment continues to rise,” said Ashley LaBrie, AthletesCAN’s executive director.

AthletesCAN recently formed the Safe Sport Athlete Working Group, to implement a baseline prevalence study exploring the high performance athlete experience with abuse, harassment, discrimination and maltreatment.

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

Just Posted

The body of 25-year-old Kyler Corriveau was discovered near Red Deer on Sunday. He was missing since Dec. 15. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contrinuted photo).
RCMP are investigating the death of missing Red Deer man as a homicide

The body of Kyler Corriveau was discovered on Sunday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 456 new cases of COVID-19 over Tuesday afternoon. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Community Futures Central Alberta, in partnership with the Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network (CARIN), is behind the SMARTstart initiative for budding entrepreneurs.
New program aimed at helping entrepreneurs succeed

Program offers mentorship, business advice and networking opportunities

A Red Deer man, who has been declared a dangerous offender, lost his appeal of an aggravated assault conviction from 2017. Advocate file photo
Red Deer man who chomped on remand centre inmate’s ear loses aggravated assault appeal

Inmate lost part of his ear in attack at Red Deer Remand Centre in August 2017

Red Deer’s Wiklund vs. Wiklund is celebrating a burst of songwriting creativity during the 2020 lockdown by releasing a new tune to YouTube and multiple digital music platforms in each month of 2021. (Contributed image).
Pandemic lockdown fuels a flurry of songwriting for Red Deer music duo

Wiklund vs Wiklund will release a new single monthly in 2021

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A Subway fast food restaurant's sign is shown in New York on Oct. 24, 2016. A defamation lawsuit by the world’s largest fast-food operator against Canada's public broadcaster over a report on the chain's chicken sandwiches can proceed, Ontario's top court has ruled. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mark Lennihan
Subway can press $210-million defamation suit against CBC for show on chicken content

Subway can press $210-million defamation suit against CBC for show on chicken content

 A man watches the financial numbers on the digital ticker tape at the TMX Group in Toronto's financial district on Friday, May 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Energy pushes S&P/TSX composite up as TC Energy shares rebound after Keystone worries

Energy pushes S&P/TSX composite up as TC Energy shares rebound after Keystone worries

AltaLink seeks to refund extra $350 million over three years to Alberta customers

AltaLink seeks to refund extra $350 million over three years to Alberta customers

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage speaks during an event to mark the start of right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. A government lawyer says decisions about environmental policy should be made by elected officials, not courts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta lawyer argues coal policy decisions belong with politicians, not courts

Alberta lawyer argues coal policy decisions belong with politicians, not courts

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

A medical team of the new Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital apply a fiberoptic bronchoscopy to a patient inside a COVID-19 ICU in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. As the coronavirus curve of contagion turned increasingly vertical after Christmas and New Year's, the Zendal has been busy. On Monday, 392 virus patients were being treated, more than in any other hospital in the Madrid region. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Panel: China, WHO should have acted quicker to stop pandemic

GENEVA — A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization… Continue reading

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, holds a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
COVID-19 vaccines: Canadians torn between helping the world and helping themselves

MONTREAL — The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is highlighting the disconnect between the… Continue reading

Most Read