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Canada's bobsled, skeleton federation in negotiations with Canada's safe-sport office

The national governing body for bobsled and skeleton plans to sign on with Canada's new safe sport office.
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Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 20, 2022. The national governing body for bobsled and skeleton plans to sign on with Canada's new safe sport office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

The national governing body for bobsled and skeleton plans to sign on with Canada's new safe sport office.

A spokesperson for Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) said Monday that it is in negotiations with the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which began receiving and addressing complaints of maltreatment in sport on June 20.

The news comes on the heels of more than 90 current and former bobsled and skeleton athletes repeating their call to Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to help clean up what they say is a toxic environment in their sports.

The athletes were recently informed by OSIC that their long list of complaints couldn't be investigated because BCS is not a "program signatory and the OSIC therefore does not have the authority to further consider issues regarding its individual participants."

Of the more than 60 national sport organizations funded by Sport Canada, only volleyball and weightlifting have signed on with OSIC. BCS is one of many sports currently in negotiations.

National sport organizations were previously required to have their own mechanism in place for handling safe-sport complaints, but there were major concerns about transparency and independence.

While Canada's new office for reporting abuse and harassment in sport was meant to remove those concerns, there are still some pieces to be ironed out.

"As someone with intimate knowledge of the NSO environment, several NSOs have not yet signed due to ambiguity with processes and indemnification," said Mike Naraine, an associate professor in Brock University's department of sport management. "If NSOs sign carte blanche, and there's no explicit process about procedure, responsibilities and liabilities, the system would be a train wreck."

St-Onge has set an April 2023 deadline for national sport organizations to sign on, and a spokesperson for the minister said Monday that it's fully expected they all will have by that date.

The minister recently froze funding to Gymnastics Canada until it signs on with OSIC. The gymnastics federation is also currently in negotiations with the safe sport office.

St-Onge froze Hockey Canada's funding several weeks ago in response to the national organization's handling of an alleged sexual assault and out-of-court settlement.

On Friday, some 90 bobsled and skeleton athletes — BCS Athlete for Change — wrote their initial public letter in March calling for the resignations of BCS president Sarah Storey and high-performance director Chris Le Bihan.

St-Onge ordered a financial audit of the organization then, which is still being completed.

The athletes said in Friday's letter to St-Onge that systemic issues have plagued BCS for the eight years since Storey was elected.

"These issues continue to go unacknowledged and unresolved by the organization,'' they wrote. "In this time, we have seen the increasing deterioration across both sports of day-to-day operations, athlete participation at the national and grassroots level, overall performance and competitiveness on the international stage, and culture within the organization.''

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press