Prime Minister Justin Trudeau changed sports ministers again and amid a Canadian safe-sport crisis with Wednesday’s cabinet shuffle.
Pascale St-Onge, appointed to the sports portfolio in October 2021, was shifted to heritage minister and replaced by Delta MP Carla Qualtrough, who had been Trudeau’s employment minister since 2019.
Qualtrough, a former Paralympic swimmer, previously served as Canada’s sports minister from 2015 to 2017.
Her return as Minister of Sport and Physical Activity marks the fifth leadership change to sport in eight years of Liberal government.
Safe-sport issues dominated St-Onge’s 21 months overseeing sport. She called it a crisis.
Parliamentary committees have heard revelations in recent months from tearful athletes about mental, physical and sexual abuse, and their fears for their careers if they reported it to their organizations’ leadership.
Qualtrough, Kent Hehr and Kirsty Duncan were appointed sports minister between 2015 and 2018.
There wasn’t a designated sports minister from November 2019 until St-Onge’s appointment, during which time responsibility for sport fell under Canadian Heritage minister Steven Guilbeault.
Duncan introduced safe-sport policies during her year in the sports portfolio.
They included a national helpline, a third-party investigation unit, mandatory prevention training, a coaching code of conduct and an agreement from all provincial and territorial sport leaders to make safe sport a priority.
St-Onge came under pressure to do a lot more amid a flood of athlete complaints and reports of maltreatment and abuse after Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Revelations that Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she was raped by members of the national junior men’s team at a 2018 gala — and that Hockey Canada used a portion of minor hockey registration fees to settle it — sparked national outrage and intensified the spotlight on the state of Canadian sport.
St-Onge was called on to use her funding powers to punish sports organizations that allowed a culture of abuse, and to force change within those cultures.
She suspended Hockey Canada’s funding last year and ordered an audit to determine if public funds were used to settle lawsuits.
The audit determined public funds were not involved, and Hockey Canada’s federal money was restored in April.
St-Onge also froze Gymnastics Canada’s money until it became a signatory to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which the organization did in October.
She’s ordered an independent financial audit and governance review of Canada Soccer, with federal funding a condition of that work.
St-Onge established the Office of the Sport Integrity Commission, with former artistic swimmer Sarah-Eve Pelletier at its helm, to be an independent body for abuse complaints.
OSIC began processing complaints and reports over a year ago in June 2022.
All NSO’s were given a deadline of April 1 of this year to become signatories to OSIC lest they lost federal funding.
St-Onge announced a slate of safe-sport reforms in May, including a public registry of people who have been sanctioned or suspended within the sport system, restricting the use of non-disclosure agreements, making financial statements public and changing the makeup of boards of directors.
Demands for a national public inquiry continue from several quarters, including St-Onge’s predecessor Duncan, to identify and resolve the problems that have led to turmoil in the sport system.
St-Onge said in May “I will respond to the requests from athletes and survivors for a national inquiry. This is a legitimate request and I’m working to be able to announce this as soon as I can.”
How her departure from sports in the cabinet shuffle will impact a possible national inquiry is unclear.