Sex offences against minors: Investigation reveals more than 200 Canadian coaches convicted in last 20 years

At least 222 coaches who were involved in amateur sports in Canada have been convicted of sexual offences in the past 20 years involving more than 600 victims under the age of 18, a joint investigation by CBC News and Sports reveals.

And the cases of another 34 accused coaches are currently before the courts.

In Ontario, for example, karate coach Satnam Rayat was charged in 2016 with sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching against a nine-year-old student. His trial is set for this summer.

In B.C., basketball coach Codie Hindle is accused of sexual touching against three young players. He is expected in court for a pretrial hearing in April.

The analysis by CBC shows the charged and convicted coaches were involved in 36 different sports.

“It’s pretty gut-wrenching to see the findings,” said Lorraine Lafrenière, head of the Coaching Association of Canada. “There is a misguided sense of security when you drop your child off at the clubhouse.”

The investigation involved searching through thousands of court records, media articles and visiting courthouses across Canada. What’s emerged, for the first time, is a detailed database of sexual offences committed by amateur athletic coaches in this country.

The charges include offences such as sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child luring and making or possessing child pornography. Most but not all of the victims were athletes training with the coach.

In all cases, the accused was charged between 1998 and 2018, but the offences may have predated that.

“These are just the tip of the iceberg for me,” said Olympic rower and University of Winnipeg sociology professor Sandra Kirby, who has been studying issues around sexual abuse in sports for years.

Kirby says sexual abuse is a very under-reported crime and she estimates there could be thousands of other cases where no one has come forward.

She says sport organizations across Canada can’t ignore these findings, and there needs to be “massive reform across the sport system” to ensure every child who participates in sports has a safe experience.

“There are people who, even with all of the information out in the press now, simply don’t get it,” she said. “They don’t get the magnitude of the problem.”

Stories of coaches and other sports staff abusing their athletes have been front and centre in recent years.

In the U.S., Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse of young athletes entrusted to his care rocked the gymnastics world to its core.

Nassar was the team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, where more than 150 women and girls said he sexually abused them over a period of two decades. He was ultimately sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges, and was sentenced to another 40 to 175 years for first-degree sexual misconduct.

Here in Canada, high-profile Olympic coaches have either stood trial or been convicted of sexually abusing their pupils, including national ski coach Bertrand Charest, convicted of 37 sex-related charges, and national gymnastics coach David Brubaker, currently on trial for sexual assault. Justice Deborah Austin is expected to deliver the Brubaker verdict on Wednesday.

Twenty years ago, the case of notorious junior hockey coach Graham James made national headlines and was thought to be a major wake-up call for the amateur sports world in Canada.

In four separate trials between 1997 and 2015, James, a minor hockey coach in Western Canada, was convicted of abusing six of his players hundreds of times, including future NHLer Theo Fleury.

The case prompted calls for organizations to implement safe sport policies, including making it easier for athletes to report abuse.

But all these years later, little has actually changed and organizations are still struggling to implement effective rules to protect young athletes, experts say.

Lafrenière says CBC’s findings could help create more effective screening and tracking policies for coaches.

“We’re at a stage now where we need to come back and say, as a system, we need to set the right safety standards in the field house, in extended travel, in social environments, in social media to make change.”

‘No sport is immune’

And, as the data makes clear, that reform needs to occur nationwide, across all sports and all levels of competition, Kirby says.

“No sport is immune to this,” she said.

Though some sports have no former coaches in CBC’s database, that doesn’t necessarily mean their young athletes have been spared abuse, she said. It could simply reflect that some victims haven’t come forward, or cases that were reported didn’t result in charges.

Hockey, which has the second highest number of participants in the country, had the highest number of charges against coaches (86). Of those, 59 were convicted and eight are still facing trials.

Soccer, which has the highest number of participants, had the second highest number of people charged at 40. Of those, 27 were convicted and two coaches are currently awaiting trial.

Many smaller sports saw charges against coaches as well, including five convicted in equestrian.

Helmut Krohn is one of those equestrian coaches. He was charged twice for sexual crimes against young female students. In 2016, he pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. In December 2018, he was found guilty of two counts of sexual exploitation of another victim and was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation.

Lafrenière says sports should be careful not to misread the numbers. “There’s a danger in saying, ‘Oh no, that’s over there in hockey,’ or ‘No, that’s over there in gymnastics or alpine.’ It’s about the system,” she said.

“Predators are smart people who look for points of access. So if they walk into a clubhouse and they see that young people are left unattended … that’s where they’re going to go.”

In the first 10 years covered by CBC’s analysis, from 1998 to 2008, there were 116 charges and 87 convictions. In the following decade those numbers increased to 239 coaches charged and 148 convicted.

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