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Quebec will reopen the law to better protect young athletes

Photo: Ryan Remiorz The Canadian Press The Minister responsible for Sport, Recreation and the Outdoors, Isabelle Charest, will table the bill on Tuesday

A year after being criticized for the “lack of uniformity in the reception and processing of complaints” and having highlighted the hazing scandal in junior hockey, Quebec is preparing to reopen the Safety in Sports Act to better protect young athletes.

The Minister responsible for Sport, Leisure and the Outdoors, Isabelle Charest, will table a bill on Tuesday at the Salon Bleu to “strengthen the protection of the integrity of people in leisure and sports”. The legislative text had been awaited for almost a year. In February 2023, the elected CAQ pledged to review the Sports Safety Act to give more tools to the Complaints Officer, the independent body responsible for reviewing misconduct grievances filed against a coach, a referee or another athlete, for example.

At the time, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) — which has since become the Maritimes Quebec Junior Hockey League — was splashed in public space for having tolerated alleged initiation ceremonies abusive in his locker rooms. The league had to justify its actions in committee before the elected representatives of the National Assembly. Former commissioner Gilles Courteau had also resigned following his time in Parliament.

Last May, a transpartisan report signed by the elected officials of the Committee on Culture and Education recommended that the position of Complaints Officer, created by Ms. Charest herself in 2021, “be formalized in a position and embodied in a person”, like the Public Protector. The document also suggested that this person could receive complaints “related to alleged facts that occurred prior to 120 days.”

Isabelle Charest then committed to “that the recommendations [can] guide the continuation of [her] work”. At the same time, she postponed the tabling of a possible bill until the fall.

Poor monitoring, ineffective complaints management

After suffering other “delays”, Minister Charest's bill finally appeared at the notice of the National Assembly last Thursday. She will therefore have the opportunity to submit it on Tuesday afternoon. A press conference is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

Ms. Charest's office did not want to give us details on the content of the bill on Monday. In August, the elected CAQ member, however, reiterated her desire to legislate, after the publication of a report from her ministry on the safety of athletes to the Quebec Basketball Federation and the Quebec Student Sports Network.

Published in February 2023, but made public six months later, the report, produced by the Investigations Directorate of the Ministry of Education, looked into allegations of physical abuse, psychological harassment, of verbal violence and sexual assault perpetrated by a women's basketball coach, Dany Vincent, in several Quebec educational institutions.

In its document, the Investigation Department particularly regretted the “lack of uniformity in the reception and processing of complaints” in sports in Quebec. “For example, for misconduct committed by a coach in a school setting, a complainant could go to both the Complaints Officer and an internal “office” of the school,” we could read. “In either case, the complainant can expect that the complaint will be received and addressed, but the results may vary, depending on the establishments' policies. »

The report urged the minister to “standardize the process of receiving and processing complaints”, by the Complaints Officer in the federations and by the Student Ombudsman in the school network. He also recommended that Quebec modify the Sports Safety Act so that “all coaches [are obliged to] provide their “employer” with an expanded declaration of their criminal record.” At present, noted the Investigation Department, only sports federations systematically carry out checks.

Half of inadmissible complaints

In an interview with Le Devoir Monday, the general director of Hockey Québec, Jocelyn Thibault, who appeared before the elected officials in a parliamentary committee in February 2023, reiterated his desire to see the Complaints Officer have “more teeth.” He says he reported it to Minister Charest's office in recent months.

Since its launch in 2021, the Officer has processed more than 1,000 complaints in the sports community in Quebec, including almost 600 in 2023. More than half (51%) were deemed inadmissible.

Contacted on Monday, the Regroupement Loisir et Sport du Québec, which oversees the Complaints Officer, indicated that it had been informed of the tabling of Minister Charest's bill in the morning. The Quebec movement against sexual violence was not consulted upstream, indicated its spokesperson Mélanie Lemay. “We tried to talk to some MPs, but we never really heard back other than asking us to register with the Registry of Lobbyists,” she said.

With the organization Youth Voice Counts, Ms. Lemay recommends the establishment of a framework law on sexual violence in schools. By legislating again, this time in the world of sport, Quebec is only “multiplying the steps” without tackling the problem of sexual misconduct more broadly, according to her.

The National Assembly is currently considering two separate bills to “protect” students and workers. Both aim to crack down harder on sexual and psychological violence. “Sexual violence is a problem in its own right,” Ms. Lemay said on Monday. “When you put in place a multitude of policies, laws or measures, what that translates into on the ground is confusion, red tape and bureaucracy. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116