Road To The Olympic Games

Jean-Luc Brassard quits as Canadian Olympic team's chef de mission

Jean-Luc Brassard has stepped down as Team Canada's chef de mission, citing personal and business reasons.

Former Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett takes over

Jean-Luc Brassard, left, is stepping down as Team Canada's Chef de Mission. Curt Harnett takes over. (Canadian Press)

 Freestyle skiing champion Jean-Luc Brassard, who earlier this year criticized the Canadian Olympic Committee's
handling of alleged sexual harassment by former president Marcel Aubut, has stepped down as Canada's chef de mission for the Summer Games in Rio.

Back in February, Brassard told Radio-Canada he would considering resigning over the Aubut scandal.

The COC said Monday he was leaving for "business and personal reasons."

"Since becoming chef de mission, my professional obligations and other responsibilities have made it very challenging for me to manage time-wise," Brassard said in a statement. "After much reflection, I have come to the difficult decision, and in the best interest of Team Canada, to step down as chef de mission. I arrived at the conclusion that I could not help the athletes to the extent that I would like."

The chef de mission is the team leader and spokesman for Canadian athletes at the Games. Former cyclist Curt Harnett, a three-time Olympic medallist and four-time Olympian, succeeds Brassard after holding the same position with Canada's Pan American Games team last summer.

Harnett said a big reason why he agreed to replace Brassard was his belief the COC has handled the Aubut scandal correctly.

"I can't speak on behalf of Jean-Luc and I'm not going to sugar-coat it, it was a difficult time," he told reporters. "I
believe it was and continues to be handled in a very professional manner."

Brassard, 43, said he has full confidence in the Canadian team and called COC president Tricia Smith "a woman of integrity who has done tremendous work since she arrived at the COC."

Smith called Brassard a "great Olympian."

"He has also been a great supporter to me as we take a new direction at the COC and I thank him personally for that," she said.

Brassard didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. Smith wasn't made available Monday during Harnett's availability.

Smith succeeded Aubut after he stepped down in October. Several women accused Aubut of sexual comments and unwanted touching. The 68-year-old lawyer hasn't faced any criminal charges.

Aubut apologized to "those who may have been offended by my behaviour" in his resignation statement.

Brassard outlined concerns to COC

The COC subsequently hired a human resources firm to conduct a review of the organization's policies and practices in the wake of the scandal. The organization adopted all eight recommendations in the review and fired two executives and a manager.

Less than a month after the review's results were made public, Brassard expressed concern about how the situation had been handled in an interview with Radio-Canada.

"During the last four years, red lights were lit on a number of occasions, and intentionally or not, they were ignored," Brassard said in the interview. "I want to know why. We're not talking about budgetary mistakes or financial issues, we're talking about human feelings."

Brassard, who won Olympic gold in moguls at the 1994 Games, said at the time he had written a letter to the COC's board of directors outlining his concerns. "If I have the impression I can't do anything for the employees who are still hurt by this, I would consider that a failure, and I might have to distance myself," he said. 

In response to Brassard's criticism, Smith said "we have taken the steps so far we need to take in terms of making sure our staff is safe, the workplace is healthy.

"It's a process. If more steps need to be taken, they will be taken." 

Harnett said he believes the COC is committed to "make the workplace a safer place."

"My job is to deliver a world-class team to the Olympic Games and ensure the health and safety and all aspects of the athletes' existence on the ground there is looked after . . . and I'm looking forward to carrying on that torch through the coming months."

Harnett said isn't worried Brassard's resignation will be a distraction for athletes.

"Their job is to concern themselves with their task at hand," Harnett said. "This is their dream, these are their ambitions.

"We're the support team behind that and I have full confidence the team is in great position where it is . . . ensuring our
athletes arrive in a world-class performance environment. They will trust us in delivering on that." 

Retired short track speed skater Isabelle Charest and gold-medal winning wrestler Carol Huynh will be Harnett's assistants.

The Rio Olympics open Aug. 5. Harnett wouldn't predict how many medals Canada will win, but said the goal is a top-12 finish.

With files from CBC/Radio-Canada

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