Tricia Smith, COC interim president, says board unaware of harassment claims

Interim Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith said Tuesday that the board was unaware of sexual harassment complaints against former president Marcel Aubut until a female colleague came forward 12 days ago.

Independent review of board's policies to be conducted by employment lawyer Christine Tomlinson

Tricia Smith, right, interim president of the Canadian Olympic Committee since the resignation of Marcel Aubut, says the COC board was unaware of harassment complaints against Aubut until 12 days ago. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Olympic Committee board was unaware of sexual harassment complaints against former president Marcel Aubut until a female colleague came forward 12 days ago, says the interim president.

Tricia Smith announced during a conference call that there will be a review of COC workplace policies, headed by lawyer Christine Thomlinson.

A formal complaint alleging sexual harassment against Aubut was filed to the COC by a female employee on Sept. 25. Aubut confirmed later that he temporarily stepped aside from his COC duties while the matter was being investigated, saying, "...he never intended to offend or upset anyone by anything he might have said in the performance of his duties."

One week later, two other women came forward with allegations and the investigation was expanded. 

There are no criminal proceedings against Aubut and the allegations have never been proven in court.

On Saturday, Aubut resigned formally and Smith was announced as the interim president.

The COC also released a statement noting the formal complaint filed by a female colleague has been withdrawn.

"We've set up an independent review that will be conducted by outside experts. Effective immediately, leading Canadian employment lawyer and human resource expert Christine Thomlinson of Rubin Thomlinson has been tasked by myself and our board to initiate a complete and independent review," Smith said.

"Ms. Thomlinson has extensive experience conducting reviews and assessments of this kind and will be given free access to fulfil her mandate. She will leave no stone unturned in doing so. In terms of transparency, we are making those terms of reference public today."

CBC has seen a transcript of the letter, which was made available to La Presse, written to Aubut in 2011 indicating high-ranking people in the organization were aware of his inappropriate conduct towards women.

"First of all on the letter, the board was not aware of the letter and this is one of the issues that is part of Ms. Tomlinson's mandate to explore. We were not aware of the letter. We were not aware of any specific interactions that would be construed as harassment," said Smith."

Smith, a vice president at the COC since 2009 and a four-time Olympian as a rower, praised those who came forward.

"It took extraordinary courage to speak up and it's been a difficult time for them and everyone in our Olympic family," Smith said." We have offered our employee all the support and resources available to us to assist in the healing process and we look forward to them rejoining us as soon as possible." 

Richard Pound, former International Olympic Committee vice-president and a COC board member, confirmed the transparency aspect of the forthcoming report.

"In principle, yes. We're all trying to learn from the unfortunate experience and one of the ways, we think, is to be as transparent as we possibly can."

Smith added in an email to CBC Sports that the COC remains committed to its core initiatives.

"While the events of the past 12 days have rightly put the issue of workplace health and safety in sharp focus, we never lose sight that our athletes are at the core of what we do," says Smith.

"The work to get our athletes prepared for Rio continues uninterrupted. Our main objective is to ensure they have everything they need to perform at their best when it matters most."

With files from CBC News