Sports

Bluewater gymnasts who endured abuse arrange advocacy web site


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The so-called Bluewater survivors, women who in 2019 pushed for an independent investigation of abuses they suffered while training under former gymnastics coaches Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker years before, have launched an advocacy website to help current and future athletes.

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An open letter from the group, which was published Wednesday by athletes’ rights organization Global Athlete and can be viewed at BluewaterSurvivors.ca, announced that the Brubakers have withdrawn an appeal of their suspensions levied by Gymnastics Canada. Signatories to the letter include Melanie (Rocca) Hunt, April Nicholls, Alheli Picazo, Abby (Pearson) Spadafora, Alysia Topol and six unnamed athletes.

“It is with immense relief that we 11 survivors of abuse by Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker welcome news of their decision to withdraw the appeal they initiated one year ago, following the March 2021 disciplinary judgement which found 54 counts of misconduct — violations that include emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse — in their capacity as coaches over multiple years, up to and including the year of Dave’s arrest in 2017,” the letter states.

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“We also welcome the finalization of the firm disciplinary sanctions handed to both, notably the lifetime coaching ban levied on Dave.”

The Brubakers coached at Bluewater Gymnastics Club in Sarnia, Ont. Dave Brubaker was suspended by Gymnastics Canada following his arrest in December 2017 — when he was charged with 10 sex offences — and banned for life in 2021, following an investigation by a disciplinary panel. Dave Brubaker was acquitted of sexual assault and sexual exploitation in 2019 when the presiding judge found fault with the conduct of the investigating officer. The judge did not question the integrity of the complainant, a former gymnast who was then in her 30s.

After formal complaints were filed with Gymnastics Canada, Elizabeth Brubaker was suspended from coaching in 2019. Following the disciplinary panel’s investigation, in 2021 her suspension was extended to 2024.

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“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,” Gymnastics Canada CEO Ian Moss said in a statement issued Wednesday. “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 moving forward.”

The Gymnastics Canada statement said the disciplinary panel found the Brubakers committed physical, verbal and emotional abuse and harassment, child abuse and neglect, several forms of sexual harassment and misconduct, and various other forms of misconduct including discriminatory and unethical behaviour. The panel also found the Brubakers violated coaching and training standards and obligations relating to athlete safety and protection, and their repeated misconduct “demonstrated a willful and persistent disregard for the ethical principles that governed their conduct and their obligations as coaches of child and youth athletes.”

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The survivors group said the panel’s decision is an important one for the sport.

“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,” their letter states.

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“That said, the multi-year, quasi-judicial process to which we were subjected through Gymnastics Canada was 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. We are moving forward, and the firm conclusion of this process marks the beginning of an opportunity to truly heal, individually and collectively. 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.

“We are forever indebted to our fierce and tireless victims’ advocate, Karen Bellehumeur, and could not have survived this process without her.”

dbarnes@postmedia.com

twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

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