Road To The Olympic Games

COC boss on Marcel Aubut scandal: 'We could have done more'

The Canadian Olympic Committee has agreed to widespread changes to significantly strengthen "workplace policies, procedures, and governance," in the wake of the Marcel Aubut scandal, president Tricia Smith announced Wednesday.

Former president resigned in October after women accused him of sexual harassment

Marcel Aubut, the former president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, resigned in October amid sexual harassment allegations. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Olympic Committee has agreed to widespread changes meant to significantly "strengthen workplace policies, procedures, and governance" in the wake of the Marcel Aubut scandal, president Tricia Smith announced Wednesday.

The board has voted to implement all of the recommendations made by employment lawyer Christine Thomlinson.

"It is clear that we could have done more. To our employees and anyone else who was affected, I'm truly sorry. We let you down. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard, and we will," said Smith.

Aubut, 68, resigned as COC president on Oct. 3, 2015, after women accused him of sexual harassment. He has not faced any criminal charges.

A report from employment law experts Rubin Thomlinson identified gaps in the area of human resources. 

It found a lack of clarity regarding roles between the COC board and Aubut, allowing the former president to wield considerable power, while also resulting in a "culture where people did not have confidence in their ability to act in a way that could affect change," said Smith. 

"Importantly, there was no effective mechanism for individuals to raise issues of concern, except through a formal complaint."

The recommendations include:

  • Enhancements to harassment policies, including a "duty to report" provision and a mechanism for filing complaints that doesn't require reporting to the CEO or president.
  • Education, including a mandatory training session for staff and board members on harassment policies and procedures.
  • Strengthening record-keeping to document complaints and how they have been addressed.
  • Ensuring a means by which individuals can lodge anonymous complaints.
  • Providing an independent resource to whom individuals can express concerns, such as an ethics commissioner.
  • Emphasizing respect and well-being as the COC's core values for employees.
  • Ensuring employees are aware of a whistleblower's policy, continually monitor employees' views and confirm enforcement of policies.

The COC board says it has approved the hiring of senior and designated human resources leadership to ensure a safe and healthy environment for employees is provided.

"We understand trust takes time to rebuild," Smith said. "We must earn it and we will.

"The report is extensive, thorough, professional, and frankly tough," Smith added in a news release. "It includes the results of more than 100 interviews with COC staff, former staff, and other individuals taken over a three-month period. I reviewed the report with the board on Friday. I recommended, and the board unanimously agreed, to accept and implement all of the recommendations."

"A majority of COC staff interviewed reported experiencing or witnessing harassment [both sexual and personal] during the president's tenure, both inside and outside of the COC's offices," the report said.

Chris Overholt will remain as the organization's chief executive officer and will be supported in implementing the changes by a working group be led by Smith, and includes former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound and Therese Brisson.

"I can tell you this will not be business as usual. We will be holding everyone's feet to the fire." said Smith. "We will do that by ensuring everyone is 100 per cent committed to this new culture and accountable to the new policies and there will be ways to tell us if we are not meeting that standard."

Formal complaint against Aubut        

A formal complaint alleging sexual harassment against Aubut was filed to the COC by a female employee on Sept. 25, 2015.

One week later, two other women came forward with allegations and the investigation was expanded. The formal complaint was later withdrawn, but third-party investigations continued based on the other complaints.

At the time of his resignation, Aubut said he was stepping away because the allegations became a major distraction.

"It now jeopardizes the organization's smooth operations and may have repercussions that ultimately affect Canadian Olympic athletes who are the COC's raison d'être and who have always been the focus of my concerns and my volunteer involvement in the Olympic world," he said.

"I realize that my attitude could at times be perceived as questionable by some women and could have caused them to feel uncomfortable. I acknowledge this and will adjust my behaviour accordingly.

Smith, a four-time Olympian, was elected the COC's new president on Nov. 22.

Rubin Thomlinson is the law firm that released a report last April into workplace harassment and abuse by former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

With files from The Canadian Press