• May 22, 2024

Changing the law to prevent abuse in sports is essential 2023

Dozens of experts, including ourselves, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January 2023, requesting an impartial judicial investigation into extensive accusations of abuse in the nation’s athletic organizations.

Our organization, Scholars Against Abuse in Canadian Sport, is comprised of specialists in law, education, sociology, criminology, history, psychology, and a variety of other fields who jointly address the problem of abuse in sports.

We have all reached the same conclusion: Canada demands an impartial judicial investigation immediately. As legal scholar Daphne Gilbert recently argued, such an investigation might “support existing efforts while establishing a forum to dissect the situation and provide solutions.”

Judge Charles Dubin, who oversaw the 1990 probe into drugs and prohibited techniques in sports, noted that judicial inquiries “aim to repair previous errors so they do not reoccur.”

A judicial investigation is a crucial first step in transforming Canada’s toxic athletic culture, setting the groundwork for a more expansive and transformational justice system.

Transformative justice seeks systemic transformation by putting victims and perpetrators within historical social frameworks. By addressing the underlying causes of violence, we can redesign institutions to create more supportive, secure, and responsible communities. This may and should incorporate sports.

Real progress cannot be accomplished until the entire nature of the misconduct has been identified.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, is proposed as the sole viable option.

Voluntarism is central to most definitions of restorative justice. According to legal expert Annalise Acorn, abuse survivors and perpetrators meet of their own volition to “reconcile genuine — and even stringent — accountability for wrongdoing with compassion for both victim and offender.”

Restorative justice can provide an alternative to the system’s more punitive and incarceration components. Certain members of underprivileged groups, such as Black and Indigenous peoples, who are overpoliced and disproportionately imprisoned, may have a legitimate suspicion of the criminal justice system and prefer a community-based restorative approach.

Although some survivors may benefit from restorative justice, the limits of restorative justice procedures imply that they cannot be the sole measure taken to address and eliminate significant and systematic abuse in Canadian sports.

Restorative justice frequently assumes the existence of a previously ideal environment that may be restored. Also, it tries to heal interpersonal connections as opposed to effecting structural change. It is a reactive technique that is incapable of addressing the institutional failures and culture of violence that caused and normalized damage in the first place.

Twenty years ago, justice reformer Ruth Morris claimed that restorative justice was insufficient. It continues to embrace the notion that a single event defines all concerns of good and evil, ignoring the history and the social origins of all occurrences.”

Restorative justice can also be problematic since it can perpetuate a cycle of abuse in which an abuser seeks reconciliation before continuing the assault. Despite the fact that restorative justice practices do not need forgiveness, survivors may feel obligated to do so.

This is problematic because forgiveness requires survivors to let go of their legitimate negative sentiments against the abuser, signaling that the survivor has moved on and that “society has permission to do so as well.”

There are a variety of reasons why some survivors may not be interested in restorative justice. For instance, they may reasonably not wish to communicate further with their abuser. In addition, abusers may not feel genuine regret. Regardless of whether or whether individual athletes choose to participate in restorative justice, it is evident that such methods cannot be used to reform an entire system.

An investigation would provide survivors with the chance to utilize their voices to convey the truth to power on a platform that can result in significant structural change. When the tales have been recounted and the facts have been uncovered, only then can efforts be done to immediately rectify the wrongs perpetrated.

Since the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women intervened to create a forum for survivors to be heard, the athletic and academic communities have been vocal in their demand for a judicial investigation. Unfortunately, the Canadian government has been hesitant to move thus far.

Ciara McCormack’s testimony before the standing committee was unequivocal: “Systemic change requires shedding light on the financial relationships that preserve power, uncovering and dismantling these relationships and systems that protect Canadian sports institutions at the expense of athletes’ lives…. “Only a broad-reaching judicial probe into abuse in Canadian sport will provide essential light on the past harm while restoring confidence for a brighter future.”

On the same day that McCormack testified, fighter Myriam Da Silva Rondeau requested the authorities to conduct an investigation.

Rebuilding is impossible until a third party conducts a judicial probe to hold accountable those who perpetrate abuses and the existing sport culture in Canada.

Geneviève Jeanson, a retired cyclist, shared their sentiments. Former Team Canada soccer captain Andrea Neil stated, “Nothing can change unless we turn on the lights and face reality.”

Abuse depends on silencing those who are harmed. Refusing to listen to survivors might retraumatize them and diminish their autonomy.

An investigation will identify individuals responsible for the athletes’ failures and prevent them from evading responsibility for their actions.

Conversations regarding the need for safer sports have captivated the public’s attention at this crucial time. We must guarantee that the voices of survivors are central to choices over how to proceed.

Restorative justice alone would squander a crucial chance to fix a flawed system. A component of the solution must be an independent judicial investigation that allows for sustained, transformational justice.

Shannon Giannitsopoulou is a candidate for a doctoral degree in teaching at the University of Toronto. MacIntosh Ross is a kinesiology assistant professor at Western University. The University of Manitoba’s assistant professor is Martine Dennie. Nicole O’Byrne is an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick’s law school.

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