British Columbia

MLS investigation into Vancouver Whitecaps to be made public, includes tip line

The investigation will look at how the club handled the 2008 and 2011 cases involving two former Whitecaps women's team coaches accused of sexual misconduct.

'MLS is investigating an MLS entity, which makes me skeptical,' said whistleblower Ciara McCormack

MLS has announced the details of an investigation it has launched into the Vancouver Whitecaps handling of two former Whitecaps women's team coaches accused of sexual misconduct. (Ned Dishman/Getty Images)

Major League Soccer announced that the results of an independent review into the Vancouver Whitecaps handling of alleged misconduct against former Whitecaps women's team coaches Bob Birarda and Hubert Busby Jr. will be released to the public.

It also announced the law firm hired to do the investigation, Rubin Thomlinson LLP, has set up an email tip line, "for anyone who may want to provide information relevant to the investigation, on a confidential basis."

In a release, MLS said "the investigation will consider the club's internal processes and overall culture at the time of the allegations, including what steps it took in response to the allegations."

The law firm will also examine the Whitecaps' current policies and make recommendations to ensure players and staff work in a safe environment free of harassment and fear of retaliation, according to the release. 

Former Whitecaps player and whistleblower Ciara McCormack said the failures of the 2019 Whitecaps-led investigation into the same issues has left former players with little faith in the MLS investigation.

"MLS is investigating an MLS entity, which makes me skeptical," she said. "When an organization has something to lose by negative publicity from an investigation, it doesn't usually end up well for the victims in terms of getting to the truth."

In 2019, the Whitecaps hired Sport Law and Strategy Group Ltd. to conduct an investigation after fans staged mass walkouts of Whitecaps men's games in support of the female players demanding accountability from Whitecaps and Canada Soccer executives for past decisions that ignored player safety.

Ciara McCormack played for the Republic of Ireland and the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team. (submitted by Ciara McCormack)

McCormack said despite investigators and Whitecaps executives having full knowledge of the sexual misconduct allegations against Busby, the Sport Law and Strategy Group final report failed to address or even mention him.

'Public relations job'

"We're totally jaded after the way they handled the 2019 situation," said McCormack.

"I gave the Whitecaps organization a chance, gave them my time and spoke at length with the investigator and gave them all the emails I had. And the result made it clear to me it was just a [public relations] job."

Birarda was quietly let go from his dual positions as under-20 Canadian women's national team head coach and Whitecaps women's team head coach in 2008 after allegations of inappropriate behaviour were brought forward.

At the time, Canada Soccer characterized his departure as a mutually agreed upon parting of ways. 

In December 2020 Birarda was charged with nine sexual offences related to complaints from four former soccer players. The alleged offences occurred between 1988 and 2008. Birarda has not entered a plea and the charges have not been proven in court.

Busby was quietly let go from his job as Whitecaps women's team head coach in 2011 after players brought complaints to club executives. Players were told not to speak publicly about his dismissal.

In both 2008 and 2011, lawyer Anne Chopra was hired by the Whitecaps as an independent ombudsperson charged with investigating player concerns. The Whitecaps and Canada Soccer did not make her reports public.

In 2019, Chopra told CBC she did not tell clients whether to keep or fire an employee. She said that decision was entirely up to the organizations who hired her.

Carried on coaching

Both Birarda and Busby carried on with their careers coaching girls and young women shortly after their dismissals.

Last week, former Whitecaps player Malloree Enoch went public with allegations that Busby sexually coerced and assaulted her while he was recruiting her to the Whitecaps in 2010 and 2011. Busby has denied the allegations.

Two other soccer organizations have also recently announced investigations related to Birarda and Busby. 

After the insistence of Canada's gold medal-winning Olympic women's soccer team, Canada Soccer announced it would "initiate a transparent, third-party independent investigation of allegations against Bob Birarda during the time when he was employed by Canada Soccer." Details of that investigation have yet to be released.

And the Jamaica Football Federation has asked FIFIA, soccer's world governing body, to help it investigate allegations against Busby during his time with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2010 and 2011. Busby is currently the head coach of the Jamaican women's national team.

McCormack wonders what another investigation will ultimately achieve when it comes to answering the known concerns and complaints of former players. 

"As more information comes out on the details and scope of our situation, this is a clear pattern of negligence," she said. "I don't understand at this point what else needs to be proven."