The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee have claimed they stand for sport "free of harassment, abuse or discrimination of any kind" ©CPC/COC

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) have claimed they stand for sport "free of harassment, abuse or discrimination of any kind" after a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) investigation.

The probe revealed that at least 222 coaches who were involved in amateur sports in Canada have been convicted of sexual offences in the past 20 years, involving more than 600 victims under the age of 18.

CBC News and CBC Sports also found that the cases of another 34 accused coaches are currently before the courts.

Analysis shows the charged and convicted coaches were involved in 36 different sports.

In response to the publication of an article on the investigation, COC President Tricia Smith and CPC counterpart Marc-André Fabien issued a joint statement.

"We are committed to the health and safety of all who play or work for the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams and to doing our part to ensure safe sport is the standard," it reads.

"We will both be in Red Deer, Alberta, next weekend, for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

"We look forward to meeting with the Minister of Sport and our partners in the sport system to advance this important conversation and to take action to better safeguard those in sport today and into the future.

"Part of our talks will focus on better harmonised mechanisms and actions to address harassment, abuse, and discrimination in the areas of awareness, prevention, reporting, management, and monitoring.

"The goal is to ensure a common understanding among stakeholders and supporting the safest possible environment for all participants from the club level all the way to Team Canada.

"The COC and CPC will be strong and influential voices committed to driving meaningful improvements on this critical issue."

At least 222 coaches who were involved in amateur sports in Canada have been convicted of sexual offences in the past 20 years ©CBC News
At least 222 coaches who were involved in amateur sports in Canada have been convicted of sexual offences in the past 20 years ©CBC News

As reported by CBC, the investigation involved searching through thousands of court records and media articles and visiting courthouses across Canada.

Emerging from this, for the first time, is a detailed database of sexual offences committed by amateur athletic coaches in the country.

The charges include offences such as sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child luring and making or possessing child pornography.

The majority of the victims were athletes training with a coach.

In all cases, the accused was charged between 1998 and 2018, but the offences could have pre-dated that.

Lorraine Lafrenière, chief executive of the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), said it is "pretty gut-wrenching to see the findings".

"There is a misguided sense of security when you drop your child off at the clubhouse," she told CBC.

Sandra Kirby, a Canadian sociologist and former Olympic rower who has been studying issues around sexual abuse in sports for a number of years, said the cases are "just the tip of the iceberg" in her opinion.

"There are people who, even with all of the information out in the press now, simply don't get it," she told CBC.

"They don't get the magnitude of the problem."

Track and field accounted for 14 of the sexual offences with eight charged, five convicted and one awaiting trial.

Athletics Canada said it is aware of the CBC coverage on abuse against minors in sport and applauds the broadcaster for "shining a light on this important issue".

"All members and participants need to trust the sport system with their safety," a statement reads.

"It should not matter what sport an athlete chooses, safety should be universally understood, expected and applied with no exceptions."

Athletics Canada said it supports the need for sport organisations to ensure sport is free of abuse, including, but not limited to, training as it relates to rights, responsibilities, obligations and awareness for athletes, coaches, professional service providers and management.

Other examples it provides are open communication with athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers on how to recognise and react to instances of abuse and harassment; development, adoption and adherence of policies and procedures to prevent all forms of abuse; and an independent avenue for parties to raise concerns when issues arise and where appropriate incident management can be facilitated.

"Three years ago, Athletics Canada instituted a Commissioner’s Office to handle complaints, including harassment and abuse," the statement adds.

"A recent review of the Commissioner’s Office has indicated it is working well, we’ve recently adjusted the scope of work and jurisdiction to ensure all participants feel like they have a safe and accessible avenue to access in instances of conflict.

"The membership also approved a revised Code of Conduct and Harassment Policy. 

"Our Governance Committee committed to develop a Conflict of Interest Policy and Terms of Reference for Independent Investigators to explore abuse and harassment complaints brought forward to the Commissioner’s Office. 

"Athletics Canada will continue to work with the sport community to bring improvements to the entire Canadian system. 

"We encourage all those connected with our sport, athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers to speak their mind on the issue."

In June of last year, stronger measures to eliminate harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Canadian sport system were announced by Kirsty Duncan, the country's Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.

Duncan reiterated that all Canadians deserve to participate and compete in a sport environment, free from harassment, abuse or discrimination, regardless of gender, race, religion, language, age and ability.

Responding to the publication of the CBC article, she tweeted: "My heart breaks for these athletes.

"I've made it clear since day one that keeping children and athletes safe from abuse, discrimination and harassment is my priority."

Earlier in June 2018, several former members of Canada's national ski team came forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their former coach Bertrand Charest in the 1990s.

Charest was convicted in June 2017 of 37 offences of sexual assault and exploitation - and athletes have since claimed Alpine Canada told them to keep quiet about the abuse for fear of losing corporate sponsorships.

In July 2018, Alpine Canada announced that it had taken the pledge to further align its practices with relation to the Responsible Coaching Movement (RCM).

The national governing body said it was moving forward positively in relation to phase one of the CAC's RCM, to ensure that the community of ski racing in Canada can operate in a safe, inclusive and respectful environment.

By making the pledge, Alpine Canada said it was committed to ensuring that policies and procedures are in place and accessible to athletes and coaches to ensure they are protected.

The article by CBC News and CBC Sports is the first of a three-part series on abuse in amateur sport in Canada.