Posts in Research

workplace harassment

Emerging Themes in Workplace Psychological Safety 2021

August 6th, 2021 Research, Respect in the Workplace


Workplace Harassment During the Pandemic

Despite expectations that workplace harassment might have decreased during the pandemic as many organizations shifted to working remotely, new research suggests the opposite. A survey led by Project Include, who advocate for diversity and inclusion efforts in the technology industry, found that: 


  • 25% of respondents reported an increase in gender-based harassment
  • 10% reported increases in race or ethnicity-based harassment
  • 23% of respondents aged 50 or older experienced an increase in age-related harassment 
  • And those most likely to experience harassment identified as Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, female, and/or nonbinary (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). 


These behaviours have also taken on new forms, ranging from individual to group-based bullying, harassment, and discrimination, experienced over video calls, emails, and workplace chat spaces (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). 


This increase in gender-based harassment has also been found in research led by The Purple Campaign, who advocate for ending workplace harassment. Recent findings showed that 25% of employees surveyed also experienced an increase in gender-based harassment throughout the pandemic (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). 


Possible reasons for this increase in harassment include changes in the ways we communicate and our working environments. With more one-on-one communication occurring in isolation and the lines between work and home environments being blurred, employees may act or speak in ways that are much more casual and informal than they normally would in physical work spaces (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). 


To address these challenges, organizational leaders should clearly communicate to their employees that the same rules around psychological safety and professionalism apply in any type of work space, whether in the office or working from home (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). Establishing specific guidelines for video meetings, including the type of commentary in chats, having cameras and microphones on or off during meetings, and where meetings take place (for example, requiring a dedicated workspace with a professional background) can help to set a clear understanding for all employees (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). Establishing anonymous reporting systems, such as Whistleblower Hotlines, are one way to provide safe ways and mechanisms for employees to report harassment and other harmful behaviours. 


Providing all staff with anti-harassment training, such as the Respect in the Workplace program, can help open the lines of communication between managers and employees and create a shared set of standards for organizations as a whole (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). Finally, for this training to be effective, it should come from a lens of preparing managers and employees to act as bystanders when witnessing harassment or other harmful behaviours, instead of approaching them as either victims or aggressors in these situations (Rabasca Roepe, 2021). 


The Link Between Workplace Psychological Well-Being & Depression


New research has shown that full-time workers in organizations that don’t prioritize employee mental health have three times the risk of being diagnosed with depression (University of South Australia, 2021). The year-long study led by the University of South Australia’s Psychosocial Safety Climate Observatory, the world’s first research platform focusing on psychological health and safety in the workplace, also found that poor workplace mental health can be traced back to poor management practices (University of South Australia, 2021). If employee well-being is not prioritized and valued by organizations, these management practices can include high job demands and low resource availability, including working long hours, not rewarding or acknowledging hard work, unreasonable demands and expectations for workers, and a lack of autonomy in the workplace (University of South Australia, 2021). Along with higher rates of depression, increased levels of burnout and workplace bullying were also found within organizations that failed to support employee mental health (University of South Australia, 2021). 


The researchers used the term psychological safety climate (PSC) to describe the practices used by management, including communication and participation systems, that protect the health and safety of employees (University of South Australia, 2021). Other studies have found that low PSC is an important predictor of emotional exhaustion and bullying (University of South Australia, 2021). Low PSC can result in increased employee stress; in turn, this can trigger bullying, which impacts all employees involved both directly and indirectly, often leading to higher rates of exhaustion and burnout (University of South Australia, 2021). 


Low PSC is often found in companies that do not consult with employees and unions over workplace health and safety and those who provide little support for stress prevention (University of South Australia, 2021). Further, bullying can be both predicted and prevented, depending on a company’s level of PSC and commitment to employee mental health (University of South Australia, 2021). With the impacts of low PSC resulting in absenteeism, poor engagement in the workplace, more stress leaves and lower productivity, investing in your psychological safety climate benefits both the social and economic health of your organization (University of South Australia, 2021). 


Emotional Literacy as a Tool for Psychologically Safe Leaders


Emotional literacy, or the ability to recognize and responsibly manage emotions, is one of the key skills held by psychologically safe leaders (Howatt & Winters, 2021). Leaders with high emotional literacy understand and care about how their and others’ behaviour impacts their colleagues and can manage their emotions under pressure (Howatt & Winters, 2021). A major challenge to emotional literacy is learning to navigate unpleasant, negative emotions proactively instead of reactively (Howatt & Winters, 2021). Understanding that emotions themselves are not the problem, but how they are handled, leaders who can manage difficult emotions effectively are well poised to support their teams through challenges (Howatt & Winters, 2021). Emotional literacy has no doubt benefitted leaders throughout the pandemic, as organizations and employees navigated unprecedented circumstances and ongoing changes to daily routines.


Four skills leaders can focus on to develop their emotional literacy include:


1. Increasing your self-awareness to better know and acknowledge your feelings.

Rather than just knowing your emotions, recognize why you might be feeling them and how your reaction to these emotions might impact others, both positively and negatively (Howatt & Winters, 2021).


2. Manage your initial reaction.

Negative emotions can and will happen, but you have a choice in how you react. If your immediate reaction is guided by negative emotions, this can often lead to worse situations or outcomes (Howatt & Winters, 2021).


3. Lean into and show empathy.

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share in your employee’s emotions, is a crucial skill for psychologically safe leaders. Beyond what employees are saying, their body language and tone are important cues to recognize how they are feeling (Howatt & Winters, 2021).

4. Recognize your mistakes and repair hurt feelings.

Psychologically safe leaders are able to admit when they are wrong and have made a mistake. Mistakes will happen, and authentic efforts to repair hurt feelings and acknowledge missteps are important habits for leaders to develop (Howatt & Winters, 2021). 



Howatt, B., and Winters, T. (2021, July 21). Emotional literacy is a core competency for psychologically safe leaders. Occupational Health & Safety Canada. Retrieved from 

Rabasca Roepe, L. (2021, July 19). Why workplace harassment increased during the pandemic. Fast Company. Retrieved from 

University of South Australia. (2021, June 24). Companies who pay scant attention to workers’ psychological health leave employees at higher risk of depression. Retrieved from 

Equity, diversity and inclusion: building blocks for respect

June 16th, 2021 Research

Equity, diversity, and inclusion, or ‘EDI’, are key values that contribute to the fabric and sustainability of any organization. While the acronym EDI is often used broadly, and the individual terms used interchangeably, it is important to understand the distinctions between these terms, and how they are essential to building a culture of respect in any organization.

Source: Inclusion by Design: Insights from Design Week Portland; Gensler


The infographic above from Gensler provides the individual definitions and visual depictions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. While the elements of these terms overlap and build upon one another, there are clear differences in what they mean and look like in practice. While diversity involves recognizing and celebrating the differences between individuals, equity focuses on fair treatment and access to opportunities for all, particularly individuals who have been marginalized within our society (Gensler, 2019). Inclusion involves having a range of voices and representation from all members of an organization involved in both power-sharing and decision-making (Gensler, 2019).

Recognition of and support for equity, diversity, and inclusion within organizations strengthens both the organization as a whole and the individuals working within it. The third report in a series from McKinsey exploring the business case for diversity and inclusion demonstrates that internationally, companies whose executive teams were more diverse across gender, ethnicity, and culture significantly outperformed their less diverse counterparts, who tended to underperform financially (Hunt et al., 2020). Two keys to the successes of the former group are a systematic approach to diversity and inclusion, and taking bold action to strengthen inclusion (Hunt et al., 2020). Key ‘pain points’ identified by employees who felt their organizations did not prioritize inclusion were a lack of equality, openness, and belonging (Hunt et al., 2020). Further, employees felt that leadership taking strong action to promote openness, belonging, and equality of opportunity was a necessary component of inclusive cultures (Hunt et al., 2020).

Taken together, diverse, inclusive, and equitable organizations are not only more profitable, but support environments that are physically and psychologically safe, where all individuals are respected and have the opportunity to thrive. These successful organizations do not tolerate behaviours that undermine respect, such as bullying, abuse, harassment, or disrimination, or BAHD behaviours. They understand the importance of preventing these behaviours and how to address them should they occur.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion are foundational cornerstones built into all Respect Group programs. Through exploring the value of EDI, the root causes of BAHD behaviours and how to mitigate them, our curriculum highlights the importance of building a positive, respectful culture. Respect Programs include relevant and timely content, including and beyond the following:

  • preventing and dealing with BAHD
  • racism and unconscious bias
  • accessibility for all
  • occupational health & safety legislation
  • supporting marginalized communities, including newcomers to Canada and the LGBTQ+ community
  • content updates influenced by important cultural and political movements and acts, including Truth & Reconciliation, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo


Above all, our programs focus on a key theme of empowering the bystander and the role every individual can play in promoting respect within their organization. More information about our individual programs can be found through the links below:




Hunt, V., Dixon-Fyle, S., Dolan, K., Prince, S. (2020). Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. Retrieved from


Gensler and Kim, S.J. (2019). Inclusion by Design: Insights from Design Week Portland. Retrieved from 

Jumpstart State of Sport Report Article

Jumpstart State of Sport Report

June 2nd, 2021 Research

Highlights: Jumpstart State of Sport Report


In March 2021, Jumpstart released the Jumpstart State of Sport Report, highlighting important findings from research conducted in partnership with Ipsos that focused on the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian youth sport and recreation (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021). 


Two surveys were conducted to explore these impacts: the first among parents of children ages 4-17, to understand the mental and physical impact of loss of access to sport and play on children and youth; and the second among sport organizations, to explore the pandemic’s impact on programming and ability to continue operating (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021). 


Three key takeaways from this research include:

  • Canadian recreational sport infrastructure is suffering: The financial impacts of the pandemic have severely impacted sport organizations, with one-third bankrupt or facing bankruptcy, and 3 in 10 organizations closing temporarily or indefinitely (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021).

  • Impacts on Canadian youth are severe: Youth, particularly those whose recreational and sport activities have been impacted, are facing significant mental and physical health impacts. 64% of parents report that their children are finding it hard to reduce stress and anxiety, and 69% say that their kids are showing signs of being less physically fit (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021).

  • Returning to ‘normal’ will be a long-term challenge in sport: More than 75% of all sport organizations believe it will take longer than 6 months for the recreational sport-sector to return to a version of ‘normal’ (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021). 


Importantly, along with these key takeaways, 87% of parents say that their kids are very much looking forward to returning to sports and recreational activities (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021). To support this return to play, Jumpstart has established the Sport Relief Fund, designed to balance recovery and renewal while focusing on dismantling the systemic barriers preventing sport participation for Canadian children and youth of all backgrounds and abilities (Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, 2021). In 2020, this fund supported nearly 700 organizations and benefitted over 70,000 Canadian youth, and stands to benefit many more following a $12 million investment from the Canadian Tire Corporation in February 2021. You can learn more about the Jumpstart Sport Relief Fund and the State of Sport Report here


Reference: Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, Jumpstart State of Sport Report, (March 2021).

Systemic Racism, Unconscious Bias & Microaggressions

May 10th, 2021 Research

When discussing diversity and inclusion, it is important to have a shared understanding of the common terms used to discuss the sources and mechanisms of discrimination. At Respect Group, we recognize that these terms can be complex, and have recently updated our Workplace, School, and Sport programs to explicitly discuss these concepts and their impacts across different contexts. To better educate yourself and your organization on how to actively promote diversity and inclusion, it is important to understand the differences between systemic racism, unconscious bias, and microaggressions, and the overarching role that intersectionality plays within each of these concepts. 


Systemic Racism


Systemic racism is defined as, “Organizational culture, policies, directives, practices or procedures that exclude, displace, or marginalize some racialized groups and/or create unfair barriers for them to access valuable benefits and opportunities” (Government of Ontario, 2020). This is enacted through institutional biases that are built into the culture, policies, practices and procedures of organizations and systems, privileging the interests and opportunities of dominant groups while disadvantaging marginalized groups (Government of Ontario, 2020). 


Systemic racism can be found in all major institutions, from governments and schools to public and private companies and religious organizations. It is important to note that systemic racism differs from racial bias in that these policies and procedures often appear neutral and may not be intended to disadvantage members of marginalized groups, but in practice, have the effect of doing so. 


Unconscious Bias


According to Catalyst (2019), unconscious bias is, “An association or attitude about a person or social group that, while not plainly expressed, operates beyond our control and awareness, informs our perceptions, and can influence our decision-making and behaviour.” Unconscious biases are pervasive, powerful predictors of behaviour, even if they don’t match conscious attitudes or opinions (Catalyst, 2014). Unconscious biases impact actions large and small, but are more likely to be observed when conscious controls over decision-making are lowered and factors such as stress, distraction, relaxation, or competition impact one’s control over conscious behaviours (Catalyst, 2014).  


It’s important to recognize that everyone has unconscious biases within our worldviews, affecting our actions across different areas of our lives that we may not be aware of, but are perceived by others (Catalyst, 2019). These biases often reflect internalized societal messages and norms, which are influenced and/or created by systemic racism, misogyny, and other common stereotypes and prejudices. Unconscious biases can create many barriers at both organizational and individual levels, working against inclusion, performance, engagement, and innovation (Catalyst, 2019). Given the nature of unconscious biases, we cannot completely eliminate them, but we can develop strategies and skills to override these biases and mitigate their impacts (Catalyst, 2019). 




Racial microaggressions are a form of discrimination that is brief and commonplace; occurring daily; and can be verbal or nonverbal (Sue et al., 2007). There are three common forms of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations (Sue et al., 2007). 


Microassaults are explicitly derogatory verbal or nonverbal attacks on one’s race, where the perpetrator aims to hurt or harm the victim through name-calling, avoidant behaviour, or discriminatory actions (Sue et al., 2007). One example of this may be using outdated and offensive terms to refer to Black or Indigenous peoples (Sue et al., 2007). Microassaults are usually both conscious and deliberate, and often occur in relatively ‘private’ contexts, where the perpetrator can maintain some degree of anonymity (Sue et al., 2007). 


Microinsults are subtle, rude and insensitive comments or actions that demean a person’s racial heritage or identity (Sue et al., 2007). Microinsults may seem harmless to the perpetrator, but hold a deeper, more painful meaning for the victim (Sue et al., 2007). One example of this may be not taking the time to learn the proper pronunciation of a co-worker’s name because it is unfamiliar, and consistently mispronouncing or avoiding using their name (Montañez, 2020). These types of statements and actions may not necessarily be aggressive , but the context in which they occur and the impact on victims determines whether a comment or action is a microinsult (Sue et al., 2007).


Microinvalidations are comments or actions that exclude, ignore, or invalidate the thoughts, feelings, or reality of a person of colour (Sue et al., 2007). Examples may include asking a person of colour where they are from ‘originally’, or where they are ‘really’ from (Sue et al., 2007). 


The daily experience of microaggressions is incredibly harmful, both for the individuals experiencing them and for organizations as a whole (Sue et al., 2007). Though the emotional tax of experiencing microaggressions can be felt in a wide variety of context, more information on the high emotional tax of experiencing racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the workplace can be found here




Lastly, it is important to consider the role that intersectionality plays in impacting the experiences of individuals and organizations. Coined by scholar and advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), the term intersectionality refers to the ways in which the intersecting and overlapping identities of individuals impacts their lives based on their social location, which includes (but is not limited to) one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, age, ability, and citizenship. Intersectionality is both a concept and a tool that can be used to reflect on how the policies and procedures of a system or organization impact individuals with intersecting identities, who may be experiencing multiple, layered forms of oppression and discrimination (Crenshaw, 1989). 


The resources below provide more information on systemic racism, unconscious bias, and microaggressions specific to schools, sports organizations, and workplaces. 


Resources for Schools

  • Talking About Race & Privilege: Lesson Plan for Middle & High School Students 
    • From Early Childhood Educators through to College/University


Resources for Sports Organizations


Resources for Workplaces



Catalyst. (2019, December 12). Understanding unconscious bias: Ask Catalyst Express. Retrieved from  


Catalyst. (2014, December 11). What is Unconscious Bias? Retrieved from  


Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. u. Chi. Legal f., 139.


Government of Ontario. Glossary. (2020, February 29). Retrieved 



Montañez, R. (2020, June 11). 10 microaggressions and 5 microinvalidations women of colour are tired of, are you guilty? Forbes. Retrieved from 


Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American psychologist, 62(4), 271.

bill c-65, bill c65, workplace harassment, training, online training, harassment elearning

Bill C-65: Prevention is the Key to Success

April 6th, 2021 Research

Bill C-65: Prevention is the Key to Success


 On January 1, 2021, the federal government’s new Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations came into effect, along with federal harassment and violence prevention legislation under Bill C-65 (Anandan et al., 2020). The new legislation and regulations pertain to federally-regulated employees and alter the existing anti-harassment and violence framework within the Canadian Labour Code (Anandan et al., 2020). Employers covered by this legislation include those in the federally-regulated public sector, private sector employers engaged in federal work or endeavours, and federal Crown corporations (Anandan et al., 2020). The three core pillars of this anti-harassment and violence in the workplace legislation focus on prevention, response, and support.


The prevention pillar of Bill C-65 and the Regulations address the need for policies, procedures and preventative measures to be implemented by all federally-regulated employers (Anandan et al., 2020). Along with an ‘applicable partner’, identified as an employer’s health and safety committee or representative, the employer is responsible for assessing internal and external risk factors contributing to harassment and violence in the workplace and, within 6 months, developing and executing a plan to implement preventative measures (Anandan et al., 2020). 


The employer and the applicable partner must also jointly develop and implement a workplace violence and prevention policy for all employees (Anandan et al., 2020). Training is a key element of this policy and employers are required to outline and describe the specific workplace harassment and violence training that will be provided to employees (Anandan et al., 2020). Both the preventative measures implementation plan and the workplace harassment violence and prevention policy must be reviewed and updated (as needed) every 3 years (Anandan et al., 2020). 


The Respect in the Workplace program, updated and relaunched in 2019, fulfills and goes beyond the training requirements of Bill-65 and the Regulations. Grounded in a focus on culture change versus check-box compliance, our program helps these policies and training requirements become actionable, while maintaining the safety of the learner. Respect in the Workplace training provides baseline prevention, but also: 


  • Foundational education on bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination, known as BAHD behaviours
  • Standards for physical and psychological safety in the workplace
  • Plus actionable tools for both employers and employees to prevent and address maltreatment in the workplace, including a risk management section with information on provincial and federal compliance

In addition, our program was updated in September 2020 to expand upon and explore the important issues of systemic racism, microaggressions, and unconscious bias. 


We encourage employers to see the requirements of Bill C-65 as an opportunity to be leaders in their field and to show their employees that they care by creating and committing to a culture of respect. For more information, please see these additional resources below:





Anandan, N., O’Ferrall, K., and Hanson, J. (2020, July 21). Part 1 of 2: Less than 6 months for employers to prepare for the new federal regulations on workplace harassment and violence – changes effective January 1, 2021. Osler. Retrieved from 


Emotional Tax in the Workplace

Emotional Tax in the Workplace

March 23rd, 2021 Research

There are various costs and benefits associated with different jobs and occupations, but one that isn’t widely considered is emotional tax. Emotional tax is the state of being consciously on guard to deal with potential bias or discrimination stemming from factors related to one’s identity, including race, gender, ethnicity, and more (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2018). This tax can be compounded for employees who identify with more than one marginalized group; for example, women of colour often experience both racial and gender bias (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2018). Further, this tax is widespread, with 39% of Black, East Asian and South Asian Canadian professionals report being highly on guard to protect against racial bias (Thorpe-Moscon, Pollack, & Olu-Lafe, 2019). 


Emotional tax has many personal impacts, including effects on employee health and well-being, and strong organizational impacts, particularly through preventing employees from being able to thrive at work (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2018). Of the Canadian professionals surveyed who were highly on guard, 86% aspired to leadership positions in their workplaces and 82% wanted to remain in the same company (Thorpe-Moscon, Pollack, & Olu-Lafe, 2019). Despite their strong drive to succeed and contribute to their organization, the majority of Canadian professionals who experienced high levels of emotional tax were considering quitting their jobs (Thorpe-Moscon, Pollack, & Olu-Lafe, 2019). Clear efforts to bridge this disconnect between employees’ goals of leadership and contribution and their ability to feel safe and respected at work are critical in addressing the high cost of emotional tax in the workplace. 


Workplace leaders play an important role in actively supporting employees and addressing potential reasons for being on guard and working collaboratively towards more inclusive workplaces. Above all, support should be active and expressed, not silent or presumed. A 2019 report from Catalyst identified these strategies leaders can use in the workplace to address and work against emotional tax:


  1. Listen: create opportunities for open dialogue to discuss differences in the workplace, seeking and acknowledging experiences that bridge differences across employees. 
  2. Learn: explore the day-to-day instances of inclusion and exclusion experienced by employees, both big and visible and small and subtle- both matter. 
  3. Link Up: partner with employees to collaborate on meaningful solutions grounded in their expertise and willingness to contribute. The value of employees’ contributions should be identified and shared, both publicly and privately. 
  4. Lead: both leaders and employees should be both supported in learning and held accountable to enacting inclusive practices, policies, and behaviours in the workplace. 


Additional resources to learn more about emotional tax and inclusivity in the workplace can be found below:


 -Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax in the Workplace Report
-These Diagnostic Tools can be used by organizational leaders to provide a deeper understanding of factors that may enhance or inhibit inclusive cultures specific in your workplace
-Our Respect in the Workplace program




Thorpe-Moscon, J., Pollack, A., and Olu-Lafe, O. (2019). Empowering Workplaces Combat Emotional Tax for People of Colour in Canada. Retrieved from 


Travis, D.J., and Thorpe-Moscon, J. (2018). Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Men and Women of Colour in the Workplace. Retrieved from 


Challenges to Canadian Safe Sport Policy

Challenges to Canadian Safe Sport Policy

February 24th, 2021 Research

Challenges to Canadian Safe Sport Policy: A Summary of One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Struggle for Child Protection in Canadian Sport




Canadian sport organizations have a responsibility to support their participants’ health and well-being and to keep them safe. The introduction of Safe Sport is a new overarching goal for Canadian sport organizations focusing on promoting the psychological and physical well-being of participants and preventing abuse, harassment, and other behaviours known as maltreatment (Kerr, Kidd & Donnelly, 2020). The renewed focus on Safe Sport appears to be a response to previous approaches to maintaining safety in sport, which followed a repetitive, reactive cycle of crisis, policy response, slow implementation of changes, resistance to change, and ultimately, little measurable or actionable outcomes (Kerr et al., 2020). One major challenge to moving forward in Safe Sport policy is the resistance from some leaders in sport towards independent oversight, maintaining that these challenges can be handled through self-regulation (Kerr et al., 2020). In light of the increasing awareness of the harms that can occur in sporting environments, it is truly shocking that sport is the only child-population institution in Canada that is entirely self-regulating and autonomous (Kerr et al., 2020). The article summarized below by Kerr, Kidd & Donnelly (2020) demonstrates the need for independent oversight, changes to funding structures/requirements, and prioritizing athletes’ voices in the fight against a climate of control in order to work towards a new, authentic culture of Safe Sport in Canada.


Background: The Role of Sport Canada


The role of Sport Canada is to support National Sport Organizations (NSOs) and Multi-Sport Organizations through financial support for elite athletes and to support sport organizations in hosting events where Canadian athletes can compete at national and international levels (Kerr et al., 2020). Sport Canada’s policies and programs operate under the Canadian Sport Policy Agreement between federal, provincial and territorial governments (Kerr et al., 2020). Similar levels and mechanisms of support for Provincial Sport Organizations (PSOs) are provided by provincial and territorial governments (Kerr et al., 2020). 


In addition to their financial and organizational support, Sport Canada has also created or supported in the development of new organizations, including the Coaching Association of Canada, Canadian Women and Sport, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, and the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, to protect and strengthen key ethical values in Canadian sport (Kerr et al., 2020). An additional independent organization, AthletesCAN, is composed of national team athletes who focus on the goals of athlete advocacy and the creation of athlete-centred sports systems (Kerr et al., 2020). As mentioned above, there is a notable gap of an independent regulatory body to oversee the well-being of children and youth athletes; instead, sport organizations are self-regulating in this area (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Threats to Safe Sport: The Climate of Control


Two important themes related to promoting safe sport include understanding the gaps in protection that leave children vulnerable to maltreatment and understanding the shared characteristics of sport and other institutions where child maltreatment occurs (Kerr et al., 2020). First, sport is mainly self-regulated, meaning that when issues of maltreatment do occur, they are primarily handled internally (Kerr et al., 2020). This is problematic for all athletes, but particularly for children and youth, who are protected by specific laws and regulations that should be upheld by all child and youth-serving institutions, including sport (Kerr et al., 2020). In turn, this contributes to the second theme of sport as a ‘total institution’, where both explicit and implicit cultures of control exist (Kerr et al., 2020). This is especially evident in sport at elite and high-performance levels, where outcomes (ex. medals, wins vs. losses, etc.) and control are emphasized by sport leaders, and the ability of athletes to advocate for their rights and needs for participation is diminished (Kerr et al., 2020). This is supported by research that has found that in elite organized youth sports, nearly half of the articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are sometimes or often violated (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Research has shown that control has become a core principle for elite and high-performance sport,  contributing to a cultural context where physical and psychological harms can become a normalized, accepted part of sport culture (Kerr et al., 2020). Importantly, this is not to say that the culture of control in sport causes violence, but rather that specific forms of harm and maltreatment are used to maintain a culture of control; in turn, the culture of control creates a climate within sport where maltreatment is expected and/or accepted (Kerr et al., 2020). Similar cultures of control can be found in other institutions that exert total control, such as the military or prisons, to establish a hierarchy of power and authority (Kerr et al., 2020). This climate of control has contributed to many sports becoming highly regimented, with clear authority figures and athletes being motivated by both increasing levels of success as well as fear of punishment (ex. losing funding, not making the team, being benched, etc.) (Kerr et al., 2020). This, along with the competitive aspect of sport and the pool of talented athletes who can take one’s place, puts athletes in positions where they are highly vulnerable to manipulation and harm (Kerr et al., 2020). This can lead athletes to tolerate situations and behaviours that they wouldn’t in other circumstances (Kerr et al., 2020). For example, in education, students may work towards achieving high grades, but if a teacher motivated students towards this achievement through harmful methods, they would be punished professionally and often under the law. Further, many children and youth are hesitant to report violations of their rights, particularly because their main option is to report their concerns directly to their sport organization to be handled internally (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Funding Structures Promote a ‘Win-At All-Costs’ Mentality


An emphasis on performance outcomes, contributing to a climate of control, has been built into the funding structure of Canadian sport organizations and represents a significant barrier to addressing athlete maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). Canadian sport organizations are primarily funded through their athletes achieving results, including international medals, records, top-10 performances, etc. (Kerr et al., 2020). As such, funding is higher for sport organizations with high-performing and achieving athletes, and lower or even cut for organizations producing less wins, medals, or other achievements (Kerr et al., 2020). Significant funding for elite athletes comes from a Sport Canada-funded organization, Own the Podium, who identifies in their mandate a goal to help more Canadian athletes and coaches win more medals at Olympic and Paralympic games (Kerr et al., 2020). This focus on winning and achievement may lead to organizational and coaching practices that constitute maltreatment and violate athletes’ rights (Kerr et al., 2020). Further, an overwhelming body of research identifies the potential individual and organizational harms of a win-at-all costs-mentality (Kerr et al., 2020).


Failure to Implement Policies from the 1990s


In response to the high-profile cases of abuse in Canadian sport in the 1990s, the Canadian government created new policies and compliance systems to address maltreatment in sport (Kerr et al., 2020). According to Kerr et al. (2020), starting in 1996, all NSOs (and later PSOs) who received public funding were required to fulfill the following obligations: 


  • Create and share a publicly-accessible harassment policy 
  • Identify two third-party trained Harassment Officers (one male and one female) to address complaints
  • And to report annually on their compliance with the above requirements to Sport Canada in order to maintain their funding 


Harassment policies at the time (and currently) were largely guided by a policy guide that assisted sport organizations in the development and implementation of harassment policies, created by Canadian Women and Sport (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Despite the progressive nature of the developments in 1996, a study conducted 20 years later to assess compliance of Canadian sport organizations showed cause for concern (Kerr et al., 2020). While 86% of NSOs and 71% of PSOs had harassment policies, less than half met the requirement for public accessibility (Kerr et al., 2020). In addition, these policies failed to adequately address psychological and physical maltreatment, focusing mainly on sexual maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). Only 27% of PSO and 39% of NSO policies identified a harassment officer, though many of these did not train both a male and a female officer (Kerr et al., 2020). Of particular concern, none of the PSOs or NSOs had a third party harassment officer; instead, the role was typically fulfilled by the CEO of another staff member within the sport organization (Kerr et al., 2020). Lastly, the researchers found that none of the NSOs and PSOs were denied funding, despite not meeting Sport Canada’s compliance requirements (Kerr et al., 2020). In response to this, sport organizations identified both a lack of capacity and will to fulfill their compliance requirements, leaving children, youth and adult athletes once again vulnerable to maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Recent High-Profile Cases Emphasize The Role of the Bystander


Recent high-profile cases of abuse in sport (from 2011-2020) in both the United States and Canada further emphasized a lack of organizational and bystander intervention when instances of child, youth, and athlete maltreatment have occurred (Kerr et al., 2020). In the cases of both Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky, multiple individuals with the sport organization knew that acts of sexual abuse had occurred, but did not report the abuse to the appropriate authorities, allowing the abuse to continue for years (Kerr et al., 2020). In the words of Mitch Garabedian, a lawyer representing some of the survivors of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in Boston, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one” (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Developments from 2018 and Beyond


Kirsty Duncan’s Mandates


In 2018, Kirsty Duncan, a former athlete, assumed the role of the federal Minister of Science and Sport (Kerr et al., 2018). In 2018, she took a firm stance against abuse in sport, mandating that all NSOs who did not disclose abuse or harassment occurring in their organizations would lose their federal funding (Kerr et al., 2020). Further, she required that in order to receive federal funding, all sporting organizations needed to establish an independent, third-party investigation process for all allegations of maltreatment and that mandatory prevention training was required to be in place by April 1, 2020 (Kerr et al., 2020). While on the surface this represented an important advancement in athlete protection, in actuality, this was a repetition of the compliance requirements from 1996 that had yet to be adequately met by Canadian sport organizations (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Policy Developments


The Red Deer Declaration for the Prevention of Harassment, Abuse, and Discrimination in Sport was endorsed in 2019 by the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Ministers of Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation (Kerr et al., 2020). Within the Declaration, a specific commitment was made to prevent and respond to abuse, harassment, bullying, and discrimination in sport (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Minister Duncan also directed the development of a Universal Code of Conduct in sport, created to identify unacceptable behaviours for all members of the National Sport community (Kerr et al., 2020). The Code was created in part through a series of Safe Sport Summits held across Canada in 2019, led by the Coaching Association of Canada, where stakeholders contributed to defining prohibited behaviours and identifying sanctions for athlete maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). Unfortunately, the majority of these summits focused solely on sexual abuse in sport, neglecting to focus on the wider range of physical and psychological harms experienced by athletes on a broader scale (Kerr et al., 2020). However, the voices of athletes at the National Safe Sport Summit pushed for a broader focus of maltreatment, focusing on sexual, psychological, and physical forms (Kerr et al., 2020). In addition, the role of the bystander was further emphasized through clearly identifying adults in positions of authority over young people as ethically and legally accountable for reporting maltreatment, both witnessed and suspected, even if the level of maltreatment did not constitute a criminal offence (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Prioritizing the Voices and Experiences of Athletes


Research from a study assessing the prevalence of maltreatment amongst Canadian national team athletes identified the breadth of maltreatment and the need for third-party intervention (Kerr et al., 2020). 17% and 23% of current and retired athletes, respectively, reported experiencing psychological abuse; further, 15% of current athletes and 22% of retired athletes had experienced neglect (Kerr et al., 2020). Fewer than 15% of athletes formally reported their experiences, while less than half of current and retired athletes never disclosed what they had experienced (Kerr et al., 2020). Among their reasons for not reporting the maltreatment they experienced, athletes identified that they didn’t know who to report to; that they did not have a safe or confidential space to report their concerns without fear of negative consequences for their athletic careers; and that they did not trust their sport organization to address their concerns adequately or fairly (Kerr et al., 2020). In general, athletes view the self-regulation of sport organizations as inadequate to address maltreatment fairly and effectively (Kerr et al., 2020). 


At the National Safe Sport Summit in 2019, athletes clearly and strongly voiced the need for healthier sport environments and a stronger advocacy role in the decisions affecting them (Kerr et al., 2020). They called to address all forms of maltreatment; require mandatory education for all sport stakeholders; strengthen accountability measures for sport organizations; and for the implementation of an independent body to receive, investigate, and resolve allegations of maltreatment, and to apply sanctions in individual cases (Kerr et al., 2020). 


The Canadian Sport Helpline & The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada


The Canadian Sport Helpline was established in 2019 as a resource to help guide the next steps of any individual who is concerned about maltreatment in sport (Kerr et al., 2020). Operating as a triage service, individuals are either directed to the police, child protection services or back to their sport organization (Kerr et al., 2020). However, as most complaints do not meet a criminal threshold, the majority of instances of maltreatment are instead directed back to sport organizations to handle internally, which, as described in depth above, often results in complaints being handled unfairly and/or inadequately (Kerr et al., 2020). 


Also in 2019, the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada was contracted to provide independent investigations to support sport organizations in addressing instances of maltreatment (Kerr et al., 2020). However, some of the larger NSOs appointed their own ‘independent’ investigators, who were often existing employees of the organization in positions of power (Kerr et al., 2020). Even when complaints are handled externally, the responsibility for handing down and implementing sanctions still remains with the sport organization, creating a clear conflict of interest (Kerr et al., 2020). 


A New Way Forward


The information above clearly identifies the need for a new way forward to achieve Safe Sport in Canada. In order to truly make change, we need to imagine a new way forward that centres around the voices and lived experiences of athletes and the protection of children and youth. Approaches should be proactive versus reactive and focus on the creation of a culture of sport that prioritizes child, youth, and athlete well-being and enjoyment of sport over winning at all costs (Kerr et al., 2020). 


The calls of athletes for a fully independent organization to handle child, youth, and athlete protection must be heard, and athletes are critical voices in the development of this system (Kerr et al., 2020). Further, an independent investigative process must be employed whenever a complaint is identified as a violation of the Universal Code of Conduct (Kerr et al., 2020). Sanctions should also be handed down entirely independently, free of conflicts of interest (Kerr et al., 2020). These processes should be fair, transparent, and accessible to all stakeholders in sport to follow and understand (Kerr et al., 2020). In addition, anyone who has experienced maltreatment in sport should have timely access to appropriate supports and resources to support their short-term well-being and to prevent long-term negative impacts (Kerr et al., 2020). Lastly, funding structures should be reframed beyond athlete performance to include athlete well-being, development, and the promotion of the rights of children, youth, and athletes (Kerr et al., 2020). The leaders of today are in an important position to learn from the mistakes of the past and to create a new way forward where all children, youth, and athletes can participate in sport safely. 




Kerr, G., Kidd, B., & Donnelly, P. (2020). One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Struggle for Child Protection in Canadian Sport. Social Sciences, 9(5), 68.

Keeping Youth Engaged in Sport Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic

Keeping Youth Engaged in Sport Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic

February 10th, 2021 Research

Across Canada, young athletes, parents and coaches have had to adjust to the new normal of sport. While some sports have continued with new safety requirements, others have been postponed until next season or beyond. In spite of these changes, youth can continue to be involved in sport in new, creative ways. Below are some tips to support the young athletes in your life to continue to stay engaged in sport throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.


Staying Connected to the Team


Regular video calls with coaches and teammates to train together or just chat can help young athletes feel connected to their team (Graham, 2020). Staying connected with their teammates can help youth to maintain the sense of community gained from participating in sport. Coaches can continue to support their athletes from afar by helping to provide training tips, encouraging athletes to stay active and practice, and to provide social support and ongoing connection to sport. 


Continue to Practice


Youth should continue to practice from home regularly. Coaches can connect with young athletes to help them create regular practice routines that include a mix of technical drills and physical training (Graham, 2020). Some sport-specific examples of this can include:


  • Soccer: Foot speed and dribbling drills such as toe taps, side touches, rollovers and inside-out dribbling
  • Basketball: Dribbling and ball-handling skills such as straight-arm finger taps, wraps around head/ankles/waist/legs, crossover dribble and double ball dribbling
  • Dance: Stretching and maintaining skills such as pre-practice stretches, floor barre exercises, or watching online dance classes (Myrvik, 2020)
  • For more ideas, check out the Play From Home Resource Hub from Jumpstart Canada and ParticipACTION


As we move into the winter months, practice space may be limited to the indoors. If you have space in your home, get creative with your kids and create an indoor practice area (Pearlstein, 2020). If your indoor space is limited, try turning household chores into practice opportunities; for example, “How many lunges can you do while putting your toys away? How high can you jump when you’re dusting?” (Pearlstein, 2020). 


Find Creative Ideas Online


From skill-based challenges to virtual ‘passing’ of the ball, puck, etc. to team members, many creative ways to keep young athletes engaged in sport can be found online (Graham, 2020). Some ideas we found include:


  • Creating a family ‘grab jar’: write down exercises, such as 20 jumping jacks, 10 burpees, etc. (Pearlstein, 2020). Have each family member pick one exercise from the jar and complete the moves together. Consider creating jars tailored to different sport-specific exercises to mix up your family workouts!
  • Find kid-friendly workouts on YouTube, like this Parent and Kid Workout 


Encourage Your Kids to Take the Lead


Have your kids take the lead on connecting with teammates, planning practice or training routines, and creating practice spaces. Kids have had to cope with much less freedom and decision-making since the beginning of the pandemic (Graham, 2020). Not only will this help young athletes feel like their voices are being heard, but it may increase the likelihood that they will continue to practice and be active, making their routines into habits (Graham, 2020). 


Parents: Cut Yourselves Some Slack


Lastly and most importantly, parents should remember that everyone is doing the best they can given the circumstances. Cut yourselves and your kids some slack if they forget to practice or have a less active day. Focusing on doing what they can and having fun along the way is the best way to find balance and sustainability as we move into the winter months.




Graham, N. (2020, May 14). Three ways to keep kids connected to sports when they can’t play during COVID-19. Folio. Retrieved from


Myrvik, M. (2020, April 20). Keeping young athletes active and engaged during COVID-19. Children’s Wisconson. Retrieved from


Pearlstein, J. (2020, Oct 20). How to keep kids active as the weather cools and the pandemic rolls on. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Prevalence of Maltreatment Among Current and Former National Team Athletes, sport abuse, coach abuse canada, abuse, athlete abuse, safe sport, safesport canada, training, respect group, research

Prevalence of Maltreatment Among Current and Former National Team Athletes

January 29th, 2021 Research

While recognizing the numerous potential benefits that sport participation has to offer, it is also important to acknowledge that for some athletes, sport is a harmful experience, characterized by various forms of maltreatment. Maltreatment is an umbrella term that refers to: all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power (World Health Organization (2010). Maltreatment includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, various types of harassment, bullying and hazing. The current study sought to assess the prevalence of various forms of maltreatment experienced by current and retired National Team members.

The last prevalence study of Canadian athletes’ experiences was conducted over 20 years ago and since that time, the culture with respect to reporting sexual violence as well as child and youth protection has changed dramatically. Not only does this prevalence study provide a snapshot of athletes’ experiences but it serves as baseline data against which to assess the impact of future preventative and intervention initiatives. It also signals the importance of addressing the human rights and welfare of athletes in Canada.

In total, 1001 athletes participated in the study by completing an online survey; of this total, 764 were current athletes and 237 were retired athletes who had left their sport within the past ten years. The most frequently experienced form of maltreatment was psychological harm followed by neglect. Sexual and physical harm were reportedly experienced to a far lesser degree. Across all categories of harm and both current and retired athletes, females reported far more harmful behaviours. Similarly, retired athletes reported higher percentages than did current athletes across all categories. In the case of psychological harm, most behaviours were enacted by coaches, followed by peers and high-performance directors. Neglectful behaviours were experienced from coaches, high performance directors and sport administrators while physically harmful behaviours were enacted primarily by coaches. Finally, most sexually harmful behaviours are reportedly executed by coaches and peers.

The findings revealed significant and positive relationships between all forms of harm (psychological, physical, sexual and neglect) and the negative health outcomes of engaging in self-harming behaviours, disordered eating behaviours/eating disorders, and having suicidal thoughts. The findings also highlight the notion that negative health outcomes are experienced by athletes long after the National Team athletic career has ended. Of those current and retired athletes who experienced abuse, bullying or discrimination, only 15% reported their experiences. The open-ended questions on the survey enabled athletes to contribute additional comments and recommendations to advance Safe Sport. The themes that emerged from PAGE 5 these comments included athletes’ perspectives that numerous harmful behaviours are normalized in sport and as a result, other adults in positions of trust and authority who witnessed harmful behaviours have been complicit in failing to intervene.

Athletes also commented on the ways in which they are silenced through threats of negative repercussions in response to raising concerns, and not having a safe and confidential place to disclose or to report concerns. Recommendations for advancing Safe Sport included: (i) establish a mechanism to receive, investigate and adjudicate complaints independent of the National Sport Organizations; (ii) attend to all forms of maltreatment; (ii) enhance the focus on athletes’ holistic well-being; (iii) implement mandatory education for all sport stakeholders; (iv) strengthen accountability measures; (v) ensure supports and resources are available for victims of maltreatment; (vi) prohibit sexual relationships and forced intimacy between athletes and those in positions of power; and (vii) conduct a climate survey of athletes’ experiences on a regular basis.

Click here to read the research.

The Winnipeg Free Press recently published a series of articles by Jeff Hamilton entitled ’A Stain on Our Game’ an investigation into convicted serial sex offender and former hockey coach Graham James. This series explores the lasting impact of his years of abuse on the Canadian hockey community and more importantly, on those who were victimized by him. Hamilton’s research shed a light on the factors that allowed the widespread abuse to occur, the lifelong impacts on the survivors of James’ abuse, and what sport organizations across Canada have done and must continue to do to prevent maltreatment and abuse from occurring in sport moving forward. Accompanying the article series are reflections from Sheldon Kennedy and Respect Group’s summary of the key messages and takeaways. All of these articles can be found here.


January 27th, 2021 Research

The Winnipeg Free Press recently published a series of articles by Jeff Hamilton entitled ’A Stain on Our Game’ an investigation into convicted serial sex offender and former hockey coach Graham James. This series explores the lasting impact of his years of abuse on the Canadian hockey community and more importantly, on those who were victimized by him. Hamilton’s research shed a light on the factors that allowed the widespread abuse to occur, the lifelong impacts on the survivors of James’ abuse, and what sport organizations across Canada have done and must continue to do to prevent maltreatment and abuse from occurring in sport moving forward. Accompanying the article series are reflections from Sheldon Kennedy and Respect Group’s summary of the key messages and takeaways. All of these articles can be found here.