Remarks by Minister Qualtrough at the Hockey Canada “Beyond the Boards” Summit
September 8, 2023 – Calgary (AB)
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Thank you for inviting me to join you today for this very important discussion.
I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territories of the peoples of Treaty 7, which include the Blackfoot Confederacy, comprised of the Siksika [six-ih-gah], the Piikani [pee-gun-ee], and the Kainai [kai-na-wah] Nations; the Tsuut’ina [sue-tin-ah] Nation; and the Stoney Nakoda, including Chiniki [chin-ih-kee], Bearspaw, and Goodstoney First Nations. This area is also home to the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3.
I also want to acknowledge and pay my respects to Survivors. Specifically, to those who have come forward – so that we can learn, better protect our children, and improve our systems and processes – I admire your courage. What you experienced should not have happened to you. I am committed to ensuring that you are supported.
I have come back to the position of Sport Minister in a time of turmoil within the Canadian sport system and around the world: a time where trust in our sport leaders and organizations has eroded.
Since my appointment, I have met with Survivors, athletes, parents, subject-matter experts, advocates, National Sport Organizations, and Multi-sport Service Organizations. This includes Hockey Canada, Canada Soccer, and Gymnastics Canada.
I have heard very clearly about the need for systemic change within sport. Our system is not sufficiently protecting our children and other participants. Our system is not sufficiently holding leaders and organizations to account. Winning at all costs is not really winning.
Bottom line – culture change is needed. It is well overdue.
I have also heard a willingness to make the changes necessary. To do the work.
Perhaps most hopefully, the system seems to be coalescing around a path forward for sport in Canada. There is a desire to own what has happened, to stand with Survivors and channel the very best of what sport can be into a new way of doing sport in this country.
I won’t say that everyone is there. But I believe that there is a critical mass.
We have made some important advancements. Credit is owed to the athlete survivors who have bravely shared their stories – in the media, with House of Commons Committees, with government. While you shouldn’t have had to, your advocacy has turned this into a national conversation and priority.
We have put in place the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, to which 93% of funded national-level sport organizations have become a Program Signatory.
We have the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport, adopted by all funded national-level sport organizations. We have a complaints process, investigations, and sanctions. All important steps.
And while some organizations have begun their journey, like Hockey Canada, it is not the time to pat ourselves on the back for the progress we have made. I see good first steps, but there is a lot of work left to do. That’s why events like this Summit are so very important.
Let me share with you my perspective and some of my current thinking.
Like you all, I believe that Canadians deserve a sport system that reflects and celebrates our Canadian values of equality, fairness, and inclusion.
That Canadians deserve a sport system that is safe and responsible. This is the sport we want for our children.
Sport has the power to create positive change. Sport builds communities. It ignites national pride. We all remember where we were when Paul Henderson, Sidney Crosby and Marie-Philip Poulin scored their golden goals.
But with insufficient safeguards and accountability, sport can also do harm. Our sport system needs to be grounded in human rights; with human rights protection reflected in the governance and operation of sport. We need to embed accountability, integrity, and safe sport into everything we do.
This means a new approach to “winning.” I firmly believe that we can aspire to win within a reimagined sport system and sport culture, grounded in our values and focused on the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of athletes and other sport participants. We can be ambitious in our performance objectives and cheer on our teams to victory within this new paradigm.
In fact, I would suggest that our future success depends on this.
Within this context, my priority as Sport Minister is broad system reform – with human rights, athletes, and safe sport at the center of sport governance and operations. I also want our system to better reflect and celebrate the diversity of our country – for traditionally underrepresented groups to have equitable access to positive sport opportunities.
Systemic reform and culture change are not easy. Some might find it difficult to own the fact that maltreatment in sport has been normalized in many sport contexts. What goes on in our locker rooms and on the bench can be dangerous and very much a slippery slope.
That’s why I believe that while strong policy and good governance must be the foundation, we need to go beyond the words and do the work.
While we have started building a safe sport system or framework in this country, there are gaps in implementation. There are jurisdictional challenges. There are insufficient resources. There are ongoing perceptions of conflict and bias – and ongoing mistrust in the system. Many victims still do not feel safe coming forward. Investigations, when they happen, can take too long. There is uncertainty – and I would say fear – within the coaching and officials’ community.
The big question for me is: How do we embed safe sport and culture change into the day-to-day goings-on of sport in Canada?
I think we’ll find the answer not only in forums like this and future Summits, but also in our collective action.
As leaders, we need to take the steps necessary to make trauma-informed safe spaces for more voices.
We need to listen and learn from advocates and athletes – especially Survivors.
We need to welcome perspectives from outside sport, such as experts in child protection and community policing.
We need to talk about the things we have avoided talking about – what’s really going on.
We need to talk about racism and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia.
We need to talk about the negative, inappropriate and dangerous behaviour that has been normalized. The behaviour that happens every day, at every practice, at every game. The language used. The gestures. The mockery. The intimidation. Where do we draw the line?
We need to talk about roles and responsibilities. Parents, athletes, officials, administrators, volunteers, and coaches – all have a role to play.
We need to talk about how we win – and how we want to win. About how we win well.
For my part – for the part of Sport Canada and the Government of Canada – we are partners in this. We know we need to clean up our own house. We can improve and modernize our funding framework. We can enhance our accountability and integrity measures. We can reorient our high-performance objectives through a lens of winning well.
There is much we can do.
It’s up to all of us to meet this moment head on. Our attitudes and behaviour will shape the change that is needed. Players, parents, coaches, officials and administrators all deserve a sport experience that is fair, inclusive, and safe – without exception.
We need to show the country that safety and wellbeing are always – in every sport and at every level – the priority.
Let’s get to work.
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