Monthly Archives: November, 2019

Canadian universities failing to protect athletes from abusive coaches, students say

Canadian universities failing to protect athletes from abusive coaches, students say

November 25th, 2019 Respect in Sport


Laura Kane – The Canadian Press


The Canadian Press


VANCOUVER — Meredith Goldhawk has loved hockey since she was four.

But she says since a coach at the University of Windsor harassed and bullied her, she can’t even bring herself to play a pickup game with friends.

“Some days I will just sit down and cry because she took so much away from me,” says the 22-year-old.

The athlete is among several across Canada who say universities are failing to protect players from abuse. Students in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia all say their schools mishandled serious complaints against coaches in recent years.

Their fight is part of a movement to end so-called “old-school” coaching techniques that experts say are abusive. But change is slow, they say, because coaches hold so much power over players and some mistakenly believe military-style training is key to winning.

Six hockey players, including Goldhawk, complained to the University of Windsor about coach Deanna Iwanicka in February. The athletes allege she humiliated them in front of others, belittled them with expletive-laden insults and kicked out some without cause.

The university hired an investigator but refused to provide the final report to complainants, instead sending a four-page summary that didn’t address all the allegations, say Goldhawk and fellow complainant Reagan Kaufman.

The summary says the investigator found the allegations were unsubstantiated. For the most part, Iwanicka was “direct, clear and professional,” though it was “inappropriate and disrespectful” to tell Goldhawk and Kaufman they were being cut by phone, it says.

“It’s definitely not right,” says Kaufman. “If they had been there for everything we went through, she definitely wouldn’t still be coaching.”

The school says it can’t comment on personnel matters and Iwanicka, who is still head coach of the women’s team, didn’t respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

Margery Holman, a retired kinesiology professor who helped the University of Windsor players file their complaints, says post-secondary institutions lack courage.

“Often it’s a ‘he said, she said’ and we lean in the direction of the person in power because they have more at stake,” she says. “We’re not going to fire a coach, no matter the preponderance of evidence, if we can’t prove it.”

She adds coaches have unique power over athletes’ futures, determining whether a player is a starter or a bench warmer and influencing scholarships and other opportunities.

At the University of Lethbridge, an investigator found in July 2018 that women’s hockey coach Michelle Janus had violated its harassment policy. The school required her to undergo counselling and additional training and it also started developing a coaches’ code of conduct.

But the six players who had filed complaints had called for Janus to be fired or suspended. In August 2018, four of the complainants launched a lawsuit against the university, Janus and athletics director Ken McInnes seeking more than $1 million in damages.

The lawsuit alleges Janus bullied players, insulted them as “pathetic” and “useless” while using expletives, threw water bottles, broke equipment, punched doors and participated in a “fine jar” that charged fees to players for their sexual history or personal lives.

It also accuses Janus and McInnes of requiring players to vote on whether to allow a teammate who had attempted suicide to return to the team.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. The university, Janus and McInnes deny all the allegations in a joint statement of defence and say the lawsuit should be struck as it is “scandalous, frivolous and vexatious.”

Janus left her position at the university in January.

Complainants Alannah Jensen, Brittney Sawyer and Chelsea Kasprick all say they’re still suffering psychological and emotional impacts. Kasprick alleges Janus forced her to play five weeks after shoulder surgery, potentially causing permanent damage.

“I put so much on the line for this coach who had all the power and control and abused me and secluded me and isolated me from all my teammates,” Kasprick says.

Janus, the university and a lawyer representing the defendants declined comment as the matter is before the court. McInnes did not reply to a request for comment.

Last week, the University of Victoria wrapped an appeal process after three athletes and an assistant coach filed complaints accusing women’s rowing coach Barney Williams of verbal abuse and harassment.

The three rowers say the university threatened them with disciplinary action if they speak about the results of the investigation.

Lily Copeland is one of the complainants and has alleged Williams criticized her weight and appearance and yelled at her in a small, locked room.

Williams has said respects the confidentiality of the university probe and couldn’t provide a detailed response until it wrapped up. He didn’t respond to requests for comment after the investigation concluded.

He says he regards coaching as a privilege, and he encourages athletes to become their best version of themselves. Other athletes on the team credit Williams with their success.

The university has said privacy legislation and its own confidentiality policies apply to all investigations.

Jennifer Walinga, a Royal Roads University professor and Commonwealth Games gold medallist in rowing, says her research has shown that humiliating or neglecting athletes typically leads to worse performances.

“You can still win and be broken,” she notes. “But you can achieve greater heights, win more gold medals and for longer periods of time with a values-based approach to coaching.”

That approach includes supporting athletes’ mental health as well as their physical health, Walinga explains.

But she says the coaching style that is similar to combat training, involving hurling insults and swearing at athletes, still exists because our society tends to glorify people who can endure abuse.

“In society, it’s a naivete or an ignorance about what sport actually involves,” she says. “Sport is not war. It’s not a battle at all.”

There is a growing campaign to rid Canadian sports of abuse and harassment.

More than 700 national-team athletes responded to a survey by the group AthletesCan about mistreatment. Seventeen per cent reported psychological injuries, 15 per cent experienced neglect and four per cent suffered sexual harm.

The federal government has brought in a series of initiatives, including establishing new policy for national sports organizations, funding the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre to create an investigation unit and setting up a toll-free confidential tip line.

It’s crucial to encourage young people to remain enrolled in sports, says Carolyn Trono, a director with the non-profit group Sport for Life Society.

“If the place that you are going to voluntarily isn’t positive, why would you stay?”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2019.

ATHLETICS ONTARIO JOINS THE MOVEMENT WITH RESPECT GROUP INC., safe sport, sport, training, coaching, coach training canada


November 25th, 2019 Respect in Sport

Athletics Ontario Joins the Movement with Respect Group Inc.

November 22, 2019

TORONTO – Athletics Ontario (AO) announced today that it will become Respect Certified. Athletics Ontario has joined the movement with Respect Group, a forward-thinking organization founded by former NHLer turned victims’ rights crusader Sheldon Kennedy to deliver training to equip employees with the education and skills needed to prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD) in the workplace.

“Programs are one thing, making them a requirement for all members of the organization is about leadership and accountability,” said Sheldon Kennedy, Co-Founder of Respect Group. “Congratulations to Athletics Ontario for moving how we treat one another from the Policy category to the Priority category!”

In our revised Membership Policy, we will be requiring that all Coaches complete the Respect Group’s program “Respect in Sport for Activity Leaders,” before completing their renewal on Trackie.

“This is another very positive step forward in Athletics Ontario’s commitment to improve governance, accountability and safety across the entire sport, and we are proud to be partnering with the Respect Group” said Dean Hustwick, President and Chair of AO.


Please learn more about, and register for, the program here:

Review the Membership policy for additional details here:


About Respect Group Inc.

Respect Group ( was incorporated on April 5th, 2004 by co-founders, Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil, to pursue their common passion: the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD). Respect Group is made up of a team of over 30 talented individuals whose passion is to create a global culture of Respect. As Canada’s leading on-line provider of prevention education related to BAHD, Respect Group has certified over 1.2 million Canadians involved in sport, schools and the workplace. Respect Group is a Certified B Corporation (

Sheldon Kennedy stops by RDC to talk advocacy, self-care and openness

Sheldon Kennedy stops by RDC to talk advocacy, self-care and openness

November 21st, 2019 Respect in the Workplace

Published: Wednesday, 20 November 2019 20:09
Written by Kalisha Mendonsa



Sheldon Kennedy stopped at Red Deer College this afternoon for a fireside-chat style to his vision to eliminate bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination.

Hosted by RDC President Dr. Peter Nunoda, the fireside-style discussion focused on Kennedy’s advocacy work with the Respect Group, as well as his own personal experiences with overcoming and addressing trauma.

Some of the themes of Kennedy’s discussion were around encouraging bystanders to act, to create a safe place for communication and to encourage people to practice talking about their issues so that changes can be made.

“A lot of times, it’s just people saying “You know, I’m feeling off today. I don’t know what’s going on” or “Hey, I heard a couple of comments, I saw your body language, it looks like you were really impacted by that” – those are the types of conversations I think are really important,” he said.

Kennedy’s overarching goal to inspire a culture of respect is foundational to the work of the Respect Group, and his message is applicable to all workplaces, schools and sports organizations.

The work done within the Respect Group is based on advocacy, education and encouraging people to be able to have difficult conversations before critical moments of crisis. He said it’s about creating a culture where, in our businesses, our schools, or communities, people are caring about each other and are empowering each other to take a stand when they feel something is wrong.

In Central Alberta, Kennedy is known for his extensive efforts to help bring the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre to life.

“They’re doing great work. I’m still quite involved in getting that work done, and getting that building here. I may not be as forefront and centre as I once was, but I’m still helping behind the scenes. I think that this community continually shows up, and I think that just makes sense,” he said.

“When you look what we’re trying to do, and what they’re trying to do and what they’re doing, it just makes sense. To deal with these issues, we have to be working together. We have to take a community approach to these issues.”

The issues that Kennedy is alluding to include child abuse, sexual abuse, mental health and wellness, trauma and breaking the cycles and societal conditions that allow these issues to continue.

“Basically, the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, what they’ve done is ask who are the organizations that have the legislative mandate to work in the space across our area, let’s bring them together and help them to get the best outcomes for kids – to me, it’s not rocket science.

He said having CACAC and the other agencies in our region working together is the best way to build better outcomes for children in the future. He said it comes down to leadership, and that he sees that in the work of local agencies.

“I think they’re doing a great job. I’m quite confident that the Centre of Excellence, the Child Advocacy Centre and the building will be built on the campus. I think there’s a need and there’s a will. We need the leadership and we need the data and the analytics to support the work around early intervention, prevention and integrated practice throughout the province of Alberta and across the country.”

Kennedy said he’s glad to continue to support the strong work of advocacy groups and organizations but is thankful he decided to take a bit of a step back. He said he’s focused on maintaining his health and well-being so that he can be a strong father, husband and person in his own life.

New Training For School Division Staff Will Help Build Safe And Inclusive Learning Environments

November 12th, 2019 Respect in School, Uncategorised

Today, Deputy Premier and Education Minister Gordon Wyant was joined in Regina by Respect Group Co-founder Sheldon Kennedy, to announce the new Respect in School training for teachers, school staff and volunteers.  The training, which will be available in a few weeks, is being offered at no cost to all school divisions, First Nation education authorities and independent schools.

“We are happy to partner with Respect Group to make this valuable training available to all school staff in Saskatchewan,” Wyant said.  “We understand the importance of ensuring safe and welcoming learning environments for everyone, and this training will further support the adult leaders in our schools to better understand and act on complex issues.”

The Ministry of Education is partnering with Respect Group to deliver the 90-minute online personal development training course.  The training will be available over the next two years and includes content on preventing, identifying, responding to and reporting incidents of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination in schools.

“We are so grateful for the leadership that Saskatchewan continues to demonstrate when it comes to the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination,” Kennedy said.  “Respect in School will give school leaders the confidence to step up and step in when situations arise and help create safe and respectful learning environments for all students.”

“The safety and well-being of students is always a priority for school boards,” Saskatchewan School Boards Association President Dr. Shawn Davidson said.  “School division employees and our communities work hard every day to create safe and caring environments for our students and we as school boards are welcoming of additional supports being made available.”

This training is part of the Government of Saskatchewan’s commitment to ensuring schools are safe and inclusive environments for all students and staff.


For more information, contact:

Dale Hunter
Phone: 306-787-9501
Cell: 306-529-9207

Respect Group Congratulates Our Co-Founder, Sheldon Kennedy, on his performance in this Season’s Battle of the Blades

Respect Group Congratulates Our Co-Founder, Sheldon Kennedy, on his performance in this Season’s Battle of the Blades

November 1st, 2019 General News, Press Releases


15 years ago, ex-NHLer and internationally acclaimed child advocate, Sheldon Kennedy founded Respect Group. Since that time, he has been a source of courage, passion and inspiration for everyone on our team and thousands more across Canada in his relentless pursuit to prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.


For the past several weeks, Sheldon exchanged his hockey skates for figure skates, mastered the toe pick and competed in CBC’s Battle of the Blades with his skating partner, Kaitlyn Weaver, three-time World Ice Dance medalist.

Through their dance, they told us the story of pain, resilience, healing, hope and laughter. Together, they dazzled the viewers, impressed the judges and put their heart and soul into their performances in order to raise $100,000 for Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities; a charity dedicated to giving families in financial need and their children a chance to participate in organized sports.

Sheldon and Kaitlyn, thank you for reminding us that pushing beyond our comfort zones can bring about the change we wish to see!

Sheldon Kennedy, Kaitlyn Weaver triumph on CBC’s Battle of the Blades

November 1st, 2019 General News, Press Releases

Pair’s win raises $100K for charity that helps kids get involved in sports, physical activities

Ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver and retired NHLer Sheldon Kennedy have triumphed as the winning pair of CBC-TV’s Battle of the Blades.

Weaver and Kennedy were revealed as the winners of the revived competition series on Thursday’s season 5 finale, which aired live from Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre — historic site of the former Maple Leaf Gardens — in Toronto.

With their win, the duo has raised a total of $100,000 for their chosen charity: Canadian Tire Jumpstart, a national group that provides financial assistance to kids in need so they can access sports and physical activities.

“This is a surreal experience, I had no idea what to expect going in. I came here with an open heart and an open mind, and I leave so blessed to share this experience with Sheldon — all for an incredible cause,” Weaver said in a news release. “I feel changed, I feel like a better version of myself because of him, and I’m so grateful.”

The pair beat out Weaver’s longtime ice-dance partner Andrew Poje, who was teamed up with Team Canada women’s hockey star Natalie Spooner. Placing second, Poje and Spooner raised $17,500 for each of their chosen charities —Right to Play and Fast and Female, respectively.

“This was a journey; I remember the first day, Kaitlyn and I had a conversation about how we needed to show people hope, we needed to inspire people. If you’re in a dark place, you can come out of that, and that’s what I’m so grateful for,” Kennedy said in a news release.

“For a long time I never thought I could smile or do anything like this. We had to show people, and give them hope.”

Rounding out the finalists were Ekaterina Gordeeva and Bruno Gervais, who raised $15,000 each for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Gervais-Talbot Foundation, respectively.

Ahead of the series, Weaver and Kennedy had described their simple approach for the competition.

“Our strategy is as it is in life in general: take this one day at a time,” said Kennedy, who in his NHL career played for the Detroit Red Wings, the Boston Bruins and the Calgary Flames.

“Whether we’re figure skating or going to speak to a group of kids or going for a walk with our family, what are we going to do today to be the best we can?”

Kennedy is a spokesperson for victims of child abuse, after speaking out about his junior hockey coach, who was convicted of molesting Kennedy and other young players during the 1990s. Kennedy joined Battle of the Blades after a recent decision to take a step back from advocacy work to focus on his own well-being.

Accepting the challenge to become a Battle of the Blades competitor came “at a point in my life where I needed to have some fun,” he said.

“People [who] have been abused, sometimes they never believe that there’s a way that they can feel better, that they can smile again or that they can do things that they may dream of.

“The reality is, we can have fun. There is a way out and this is about hope.”


For one of Weaver and Kennedy’s two performances on the penultimate episode, they skated to Elton John’s I’m Still Standing, which he called a personal anthem. The duo earned a standing ovation from the live audience.

“It kind of sums up not only Battle of the Blades but my own journey,” Kennedy said. “I’m still standing. A real survivor.”

The series, which showcases figure skating pros and hockey stars competing in pairs, returned to the CBC-TV lineup this fall — a decade after the show first debuted on the public broadcaster. It was put on hiatus in 2014 amid budget cuts.


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