Dave Brubaker, ex-Canadian gymnastics coach, acquitted of sex-related charges

Former Canadian Olympic women's gymnastics coach Dave Brubaker was found not guilty today of two sex-related charges levelled by a former athlete.

Justice Deborah Austin had concerns about how investigation was handled

Former Canadian gymnastics coach Dave Brubaker, left, is seen leaving a courthouse on Feb. 13, 2019, after being found not guilty of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a former athlete. (Mark Spowart/Canadian Press)

Former Canadian Olympic women's gymnastics coach Dave Brubaker was found not guilty today of two sex-related charges levelled by a former athlete.

Brubaker had pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and sexual exploitation relating to the alleged incidents between 2000 and 2007.

Justice Deborah Austin, in delivering her decision inside a Sarnia, Ont., courtroom, gave a scathing critique of how the lead officer handled the investigation, saying the Crown's case was damaged by the relationship between the complainant and the officer, who she said abandoned both his oath of impartiality and his oath of secrecy

"I don't criticize him for being a good friend … I do criticize the decision to also at the same time take on the role of sole investigating officer in the case resulting in some questions about the handling of the case," she said. "These things do affect the reliability of the Crown's case. These issues cannot be ignored."

Judge says complainant's testimony 'sincere, genuine'

The trial heard the sole investigating officer made the complainant the godmother of his child during the course of the probe. Court also heard the officer shared details of Brubaker's police interview with the woman, who cannot be identified under a publication ban.

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Austin said none of her critique of the officer should be interpreted as an indictment of the complainant.

"She was forthright and appeared to be doing her best, generally," the judge said. "It was sincere and genuine."​

Brubaker hugged his wife, Elizabeth, after the judge's decision while his supporters applauded in court.

Gymnastics Canada launching internal probe

In a statement, Gymnastics Canada announced it would conduct an internal investigation in accordance with its Code of Ethics and Conduct and Discipline policies.
"Gymnastics Canada acknowledges, understands, and remains committed to our responsibility in creating and preserving gymnastics environments that ensure positive, healthy, and fulfilling experiences for all of our participants," read the statement. "Together with our provincial and territorial partners and member clubs, we are continuing to implement a safe sport framework for gymnastics across the country.

"This framework includes tools to assist parents and other responsible adults to identify potentially unsafe situations and take proactive steps to ensure the safety of the athletes; providing confidential channels for athletes to communicate concerns with respect to their safety and well-being without risk of reprisals; and utilizing the appropriate enforcement mechanisms for addressing individuals who breach safe sport policies."
Gymnastics Canada CEO Ian Moss told CBC Sports' Devin Heroux that the investigation would follow proper protocol and he hoped that it would move swiftly. 

"He [Brubaker] is unable to become a member again until we determine the outcome of the investigation. We've said in our other cases that we hope that the investigations can be completed within a month. We hope that that's the case. Certainly we're not going to drag it out," Moss said.

"These are very difficult times. These are very difficult stories and conversations. We know we want to maintain the sanctity and the beauty of the sport. We know that we've got work to do. Every sport has work to do there. And we are vigilant in ensuring that."

At the time of Brubaker's arrest in December 2017, he was interviewed by the lone officer on the case — a procedure the judge found was conducted in a particularly concerning way. He was also put on administrative leave by Gymnastics Canada and will remain suspended during its investigation.

Police officer should be investigated, says defence lawyer

"The statement contains unusually long commentary and monologue by the investigating officer and the questions were broad and wide-ranging," Austin told the court, suggesting the officer acted as a "conduit" for the complainant.

The most damning part of the statement, she said, was that Brubaker said he was "guilty of crossing a line." The officer, however, did not ask Brubaker to clarify what "line" he crossed or in what ways he crossed it, Austin said.

WATCH | Ottawa moves to combat abuse in amateur sport:

Outside court, Brubaker's defence lawyer argued the officer should be investigated for the way the probe was carried out.

"He owes [Brubaker] more than [an apology]. He turned his life upside down," Patrick Ducharme said. "This is not over … We'll try to clear [Brubaker's] name in every respect."

Sarnia police did not respond to request for comment on the judge's criticism of the investigating officer or Ducharme's call for a probe into his conduct.

Complainant initiated kisses, Brubaker said

In the case involving Brubaker, the complainant told the court that from the time she was 12, he would commonly greet her with a kiss on the lips.

Brubaker didn't deny this.

"I think it was just out of habit … that she started to kiss me," Brubaker said, insisting the kisses were innocent. "I don't come from a kissy family, so to me it's just part of the gymnast culture. It's not something I need as a man."

Brubaker, who coached the national women's team at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, told the court the complainant initiated the kisses after a competition in Europe.

Brubaker's wife, who worked alongside her husband, testified she found nothing odd about the kisses, but acknowledged her husband kissed other students only on the cheek.

Brubaker's wife suspended

Last month, Gymnastics Canada suspended Elizabeth Brubaker, who isn't facing criminal charges, from her coaching job with the Bluewater Gymnastics Club in Sarnia.

In a statement, Gymnastics Canada said it suspended her after receiving "a number of written formal complaints … that outlined alleged violations of Gymnastics Canada's ethics and code of conduct policies over an extended period of time a number of years ago."

The complainant in her husband's case is now in her 30s. She also alleged Dave Brubaker touched her inappropriately while treating her for persistent pain and soreness.

Brubaker, the women's national team director at last year's world championships in Montreal, also vehemently denied this. But at the same time, an expert witness told the court that treatment, often in sensitive areas, is an integral and necessary part of maintaining the body of an elite gymnast.

Complainant alleged Brubaker would 'spoon' her

During their lengthy time as coach and student, the complainant also lived with the Brubakers. The court heard that David Brubaker took special care of her, picking her up almost daily at school before driving her home and then to practice.

On a number of occasions, it's alleged, Brubaker invited the complainant into his bedroom to join him for a nap. She alleges Brubaker would "spoon" her and tickle her belly.

He denied this ever happened.

Ducharme argued the young woman was bitter because she didn't make it to the Olympics, unlike some others Brubaker coached.

Brubaker's trial came at a time when the sport of gymnastics is in a seismic flux. In the U.S., Larry Nassar, the former U.S. gymnastics national team doctor who was convicted of assaulting hundreds of young gymnasts under the guise of treatment, has brought the sport to its knees.

Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in jail for his crimes. And just this week, U.S. Gymnastics declared bankruptcy as it desperately tries to make a fresh start.

With files from Jamie Strashin/Devin Heroux, CBC Sports & The Canadian Press