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Heritage Committee working to make sports safer for youth: Shields

Posted on July 13, 2023 by Taber Times

By Ian Croft
Taber Times
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With many parents using youth sport organizations to help both themselves and their children it is presumed that these places are safe for kids. Unfortunately, this is not always the case but the Canadian Heritage Committee is continuing their investigation into incidences of recorded abuse. 

Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, discussed how these investigations are currently going.

“We started back more than a year ago with investigating what happened with Hockey Canada, and the horrific incident that happened,” said Shields. 

“That study we thought would be a very tragic one, but we could deal with it in a very short time. It has expanded into all of the organizations, whether it is swimming, fencing, rugby, hockey, and soccer. With soccer, teams with players like Christine Sinclair coming forward and talking about the challenges, the frustrations, the abuse that is going on in sports. It’s a real challenge. We’ve been involved in the study for a year, and we had Canada Boxing add a committee and they were talking about the issues they had with boxing. Safe sport with youth has been a real challenge in this country as we’ve gotten into so many different parts, and different sports organizations.”

From here Shields discussed how vast youth sports is, and how individuals who should not be in positions of power can keep entering into positions of authority.

“The vast majority are grassroots amateur coaches that are doing a great job, but then we (have) the provincial sports organizations, then the national sports organizations, then we (have) the sports minister above that, and there’s so much miscommunication where things may go wrong with a coach in one place. They may be disciplined or let go in one place, and then they pop up in another place, because there’s no registry, and there’s no communication. We’re really looking at the organizations, their structures, their finances. It is a challenge out there, and we got to make sports for youth phenomenal. There are 62 different sports organizations in this country, and many of them at the grassroots level are doing fantastic jobs, but things have gone wrong. They really have, and youth have really suffered at different levels, and we are finding a way to resolve some of these things.”

Finally Shields touched on how delicate this investigation has to be, and how the members of the Heritage Committee avoid putting victims through more grief.

“Like I said, we started with Hockey Canada over one specific incident, but we got into a lot more, and some of the issues for example are nondisclosure agreements, which is an industry type of contractual situation to protect the industry’s priorities, and what they’re working with is now the youth throughout sports in a way that’s just not safe,” said Shields. “It forces youth into signing an agreement that keeps things secret, that keeps things behind closed doors. Which it shouldn’t be, it should be much more transparent. We’re looking at what organizations are doing to keep youth safe, and there’s a lot of work to be done with the priorities of policies of getting things in place to protect our youth, because we have sure found some situations where we’ve gone through committee, we’ve gone through training not to re-victimize witnesses. If people have watched some of the committee meetings we’ve had witnesses come forward with the most horrendous personal stories, and for them to be able to do that, that is not easy. That is very, very difficult and the last thing we want to do is to re-victimize them, but the stories that are coming out are just tough for those people to tell, tough for their family to experience, and we want to see if we can resolve some of those issues, because we sure had a lot of people come up from the organizations to tell us about the challenge they’ve had for youth in sports.”

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