Meredith Goldhawk, a former University of Windsor hockey player, is pictured in a handout photo in 2018 at South Windsor Arena in Windsor, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Meredith Goldhawk

Meredith Goldhawk, a former University of Windsor hockey player, is pictured in a handout photo in 2018 at South Windsor Arena in Windsor, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Meredith Goldhawk

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

The fight is part of a movement to end so-called ‘old-school’ coaching techniques that experts say are abusive

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.

READ MORE: UVic threatens any athletes who speak about rowing coach investigation

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.

READ MORE: Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

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?”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

The Kimberley Edible Garden Society meeting in 2020. KEGG file
Community garden proposed for McDougal Park

The Kimberley Edible Gardens and Greenhouse Society, which formerly operated a greenhouse… Continue reading

Candice Marie Neale was last seen by her family on May 5, 2021 around 11p.m. Cranbrook RCMP are asking anyone who sees Neale to contact police. (Submitted file)
UPDATE: Previously missing Cranbrook woman located, found safe and sound, says RCMP

Candice Marie Neale was reporting missing on Monday, she has since been found

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

Most Read