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Legalities obstruct abuse-investigation body for amateur athletes

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  • OTTAWA — An outside body to investigate allegations of abuse and harassment in amateur sports is hung up on legalities, says Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan.

    Last week, Duncan announced a new code of conduct for handling abuse allegations in sport, from community teams to national sports organizations, but critics say it’s toothless.

    Cheryl Hardcastle, a Windsor, Ont., MP and the NDP critic for sport, has been calling for an independent investigative body for some time.

    “We started out with mandates and codes of conduct and it’s not enough,” said Hardcastle. “It’s not that it’s not working, it’s that it’s not enough to follow through on the complexities of these issues. Some of these investigations that are having to be done by organizations, they’re not even really equipped to do them.”

    Hardcastle said she thinks Canada should follow the lead of the United States, which has established the U.S. Center for SafeSport. The non-profit organization allows athletes in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement to report sexual abuse, provides information on abuse-prevention techniques and policies, and keeps a public database of coaches and other sports figures disciplined for sexual misconduct.

    In an emailed statement, Duncan wrote that a third-party mechanism for investigating complaints in Canada is in the works but “legal and jurisdictional issues” need to be considered and that her officials are working with provinces and territories.

    Duncan also wrote that the outside body will eventually “ensure all athletes can feel safe and confident in disclosing incidents of abuse and be assured their case will be given due process.”

    Canadian Heritage spokesperson Daniel Savoie said in an email that the federal government already requires that all government-funded sports organizations allow for “access to an independent third party to address harassment and abuse cases.”

    But establishing that independent body for abuse allegations requires “support and collaboration between federal–provincial/territorial governments and the sport community,” wrote Savoie.

    Like other provinces, Alberta has been in talks with the federal government about how to reduce abuse in sports and recently hosted Canada’s sports ministers at a conference in Red Deer. They discussed the possibility of “a mechanism to report and monitor incidents of harassment, abuse, and discrimination in sport,” wrote Marion Nadar, a spokesperson for Alberta’s culture ministry.

    Nadar wrote that the ministry isn’t aware of any legal or jurisdictional obstacles that would prevent the creation of a third-party body to hear complaints.

    The provincial ministry that handles sport in British Columbia referred questions on the issue to the federal government. Ontario’s ministry condemned abuse in sport and said that province is working on a sports action plan but didn’t answer questions about problems with a third-party investigative body.

    Duncan’s announcement came shortly after a CBC investigation found over 200 coaches in Canada have been convicted of sexual abuse in the last 20 years and another 34 cases involving coaches are before the courts.

    —Follow @Dani_Edwards1 on Twitter

    Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press


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    Grassy Narrows worries about fate of Trudeau Liberals’ promised treatment home

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  • OTTAWA — The chief of a First Nation in northwestern Ontario long-plagued by the debilitating impacts of mercury contamination says he is worried about the fate of a federally promised treatment facility as the calendar speeds towards this fall’s election without any signs of progress.

    Grassy Narrows First Nation has suffered from the health impacts of mercury contamination stemming from when a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960s.

    Those afflicted with mercury poisoning suffer from impaired peripheral vision, hearing, speech, and cognitive function. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness or stinging pain in the extremities and mouth.

    Help for those residents appeared a certainty two years ago when the minister in charge of the file promised a specialized treatment facility on the reserve. A required feasibility study was produced last November that outlined costs and design ideas.

    Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle said there has been little action on the project. Meanwhile, there also appears to be a political disagreement between the federal Liberals and the Ontario Tory government over jurisdictional responsibility.

    In an interview, Turtle said the community wants to see evidence of progress from the Trudeau government so the project doesn’t disappear.

    “They made a commitment,” he said of the federal government. “We would like to get it going and right now, it is kind of stalled.”

    He urged the federal government to put $88.7 million — the estimated 30-year cost for the facility, according to the feasibility study — into a trust fund for the community to ensure the project moves ahead no matter the results of the fall federal election.

    “We will be certain that there’s money there, that money was set aside for the project and whoever gets in (as government), that we can continue on with the work,” Turtle said.

    The Ontario government secured a $85-million trust for clean up of the land and water nearby in 2017, and that fall, then Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott promised community leaders that Ottawa would fund the treatment facility on reserve.

    Philpott followed up in December with a letter confirming the government would pay for the feasibility study and “the construction and operation of the treatment centre in Grassy Narrows once the design work and programming is ready.”

    Philpott was moved from the post this past January in a cabinet shuffle. She now sits as an Independent MP after being removed from the Liberal caucus over her public concerns about the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

    “I actually had been preparing to go to the community myself before I was shuffled,” Philpott said.

    Her replacement at Indigenous Services, Seamus O’Regan, plans to visit the community and said the government remains “absolutely committed” to the mercury home. He said design work is underway along with building a construction schedule, but he did not offer specifics.

    Grassy Narrows has suffered for generations, O’Regan said, but work can’t go ahead without Ontario’s co-operation.

    “Ultimately, it is a health facility so we have to make sure we work with them (Ontario) on that because delivery of health care is provincial jurisdiction,” O’Regan said. “We are committed to building the facility and we will do that.”

    Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government argued the federal Liberals were playing partisan political games to distract from inaction. A spokesman for Ontario Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford said Philpott’s 2017 promise came absent any funding or operational commitment from the previous provincial Liberal government.

    “There’s absolutely nothing stopping the federal government from fulfilling their commitment to the community,” Brayden Akers said in a statement. “Any suggestion otherwise is blatantly false.”

    In the meantime, Grassy Narrows awaits word about when O’Regan will visit. The First Nation has also sent multiple invitations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that have yet to be answered.

    At the end of March, Trudeau apologized for his response to a protester who interrupted a Liberal fundraising event to draw attention to the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. As security escorted the woman out, Trudeau thanked her for her donation: “I really appreciate your donation to the Liberal Party of Canada.”

    Philpott said she personally hopes federal work on the mercury home will move ahead quickly because Canadians can’t understand why the people of Grassy Narrows have not yet gotten the help they need.

    “That we can’t provide care is really something that shames us all,” she said.

    —Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

    Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press


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    Person airlifted to hospital after avalanche in Yoho National Park has died

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  • LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Parks Canada says a person who was airlifted to hospital in Calgary following an avalanche in Yoho National Park has died.

    The agency says a male who was among a party of three was involved in an avalanche Saturday afternoon on Des Poilus Glacier, which is on the Wapta Icefield, approximately 180 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

    STARS Air Ambulance said the person was in critical condition at the time, and Parks Canada says in an update that he did not survive.

    The other two people in the party were not injured.

    Parks Canada says the slide was not connected to an avalanche that happened Tuesday on Howse Peak in Banff National Park that is believed to have claimed the lives of three professional climbers.

    Efforts to find those men — American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjorg Auer — have been hampered by poor weather and dangerous conditions.

    Parks Canada says the avalanche danger rating for Saturday was variable, noting that spring avalanche conditions can range from high to low and are dependent on weather and location, among other factors.

     

    The Canadian Press


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