Sport Solution Clinic supports public accountability in gymnastics

Sport Solution: A program of AthletesCAN

By Amanda Fowler (Supervising Lawyer) and Laura Wade (Program Manager)

In the longest case AthletesCAN and Western Law’s Sport Solution Clinic (the clinic) has ever been involved with, a former Gymnastics Canada coach, Elvira Saadi, has been banned from coaching athletes for life.

This decision is the first to order a lifetime ban for non-sexual abuse in Canada. It is also the first decision to be made public (a marked departure from Gymnastics Canada’s ‘practice’ of keeping them confidential).

Ms. Saadi was found to have abused athletes through physical, emotional and psychological abuse. This included making disparaging comments about the athletes’ bodies, restricting food and water intake, and instilling fear that became normalized within the gymnastics community. This is significant in the growing safe-sport movement as it recognizes that other forms of abuse, such as emotional and psychological abuse, will no longer be tolerated in sport.

All forms of abuse and maltreatment should be taken seriously, and this decision demonstrates that continuous emotional and psychological abuse will not be sanctioned lightly.

To provide the history of the clinic’s involvement with the matter, the investigation into Ms. Saadi by an external investigator began in November 2020 and the investigation report was issued in April 2022. The case manager recommended that the complaints be referred to a Gymnastics Canada Discipline Committee for disciplinary action.

After an unsuccessful mediation, all the parties (each of whom were represented by counsel) agreed the investigation report would be adopted by the panel as findings of fact. This left the panel to decide the applicable sanction.

Prior to that sanctioning process, both Gymnastics Canada and Ms. Saadi brought motions: Gymnastics Canada disputed whether our client was a proper complainant in the proceeding, and Ms. Saadi sought to quash the hearing based on lack of jurisdiction, apprehension of bias and procedural fairness because of an alleged fee agreement where Gymnastics Canada paid the other complainants’ lawyer fees. (Of note, we were never paid by Gymnastics Canada).

Our client filed responding submissions and was successful in dismissing the requests. In fact, Gymnastics Canada had argued that it ‘becomes’ the complainants and should have carriage and control of the proceedings on their behalf going forward. The panel disagreed. Gymnastics Canada was given a participatory role, and not the ‘party’ status it sought.

At the end of the sanctioning process, the panel issued the following sanction:

  1. A full suspension of membership from Gymnastics Canada and any Provincial Governing Body for Gymnastics in Canada for 10 years with credit served for the provisional suspension period.
  2. Required to complete ethics and healthy coaching education as well as demonstrate a full understanding of Gymnastics Canada’s Code of Ethics and Conduct among other conditions for reinstatement.
  3. If the above conditions are met, permitted to return to training coaches only. She is prohibited from having direct contact or engagement with athletes in any manner.

Given the duration of this case (three years, including a 13-month investigation) it was overseen by three cohorts of the clinic’s program managers: graduated program managers Tyler Matthews, Brittany Bates, and Rheanna Geisel, and current program managers Laura Wade, Dylan Romero-Marshall and Hannah Herrington.

The clinic’s supervising lawyer, Amanda Fowler, was the lawyer of record and Dr. Emir Crowne joined us as co-counsel for the motions and sanctioning hearing.