Coaching couple, banned by Gymnastics Canada, withdraw their appeals

Eleven Canadian gymnasts who say they were abused by coaches Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker applauded the news that the couple has withdrawn an appeal of their coaching bans.

11 gymnasts who claimed abuse applaud news from Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker

Former Canadian gymnastics coach Dave Brubaker, left, and wife Elizabeth Brubaker, right, seen above in 2019, withdrew their appeal over lifetime bans from the program in wake of abuse allegations. (Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press)

Eleven Canadian gymnasts who say they were abused by coaches Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker applauded the news that the couple has withdrawn an appeal of their coaching bans.

Dave Brubaker, who coached Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was banned for life by Gymnastics Canada last year after an internal investigation into multiple complaints. He'd been suspended in 2017 after he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse. He was found not guilty, but GymCan launched its own investigation after numerous complaints.

His wife Elizabeth was suspended in 2019 through 2024.

The Brubakers have denied all allegations.

"While no punishment can or will reverse the damage done by the abuse we endured as athletes, we are confident the Panel's decision will serve to protect others and prevent future harm from being done," the gymnasts said in a statement.

"We are relieved that this matter is now concluded so that we can focus on what matters most and that is to ensure that all participants have a healthy training and competition environment," Ian Moss, CEO of GymCan, said in a statement. "We appreciate how difficult this experience has been on the brave athletes who came forward and vow to make the necessary systemic improvements to ensure a positive and healthy culture."

The 11 gymnasts — Melanie (Rocca) Hunt, April Nicholls, Alheli Picazo, Abby (Pearson) Spadafora, Alysia Topol, and six others referred to as "Athletes A, B, H, I, J and K" — comprise the core group of athletes who pushed for a third-party investigation and testified in the 2020 disciplinary procedure with Gymnastics Canada.

According to the Bluewater Survivors, so named because Brubaker was coach and director of Bluewater Gymnastics in Sarnia, Ont., a March 2021 disciplinary judgment found 54 counts of misconduct, including emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse, in the couple's capacity as coaches over multiple years, up to and including the year of Dave Brubaker's arrest in 2017.

Investigative process called 'harmful and re-victimizing'

The gymnasts decried the multi-year investigative process with Gymnastics Canada as "harmful and re-victimizing."

"It centred abusers over victims, compounded the trauma of survivors, and prolonged what had already been an open-ended nightmare.

"That process cannot be allowed to continue as is."

Gymnastics Canada has confirmed the Brubakers withdrew their appeals on Friday.

It's a bit of good news in a sport that has been rife with accusations of maltreatment. More than 400 current and former gymnasts and coaches signed an open letter to Sport Canada calling for a third-party investigation into their sport, a story that caught the attention of U.S. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who famously sentenced Larry Nassar to life in prison in the U.S. gymnastics sexual abuse scandal that involved hundreds of girls and women.

More than 8 NSOs face accusations

Pascale St-Onge said since she was appointed Canada's sport minister almost six months ago, more than eight national sport organizations have faced accusations of everything from sexual abuse to misappropriation of funds, among them rowing, rugby and bobsleigh/skeleton.

"We are moving forward, and the firm conclusion of this process marks the beginning of an opportunity to truly heal, individually and collectively," the Bluewater Survivors wrote.

"We are reclaiming our power and our voices, and will use both to advocate for change and accountability. We will tell our truths — the truth — in time, and work to ensure that future generations of athletes, no matter their level of skill or sport of choice, are spared of what we were not."

St-Onge accelerated a third-party mechanism within the Sports Dispute and Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) to hear complaints of abuse. She vowed it would be operational by the end of spring, and last week former artist swimmer Sarah-Eve Pelletier was named Canada's first sport integrity commissioner.

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