Government’s failure to pass resolution on protecting young athletes from abuse ‘appalling’: Winnipeg coach

A Winnipeg football coach left the Manitoba Legislature disheartened Thursday after a resolution calling on the government to better protect youth in sports from potential abuse failed to pass.

Geordie Wilson, who coaches the Winnipeg Rifles junior football team, says the government’s refusal to pass the resolution continues the status quo, even after eight former high school football players came forward with sexual assault allegations against a longtime coach last month.

“If everything’s good, then why did those kids at Vincent Massey [Collegiate] get assaulted?” Wilson said.

“That’s what they’re saying by kind of dismissing this — ‘Everything’s fine. Don’t look here. Let’s just keep moving on.’ And to me, that’s appalling and it actually rips my guts out,” he said.

The private member’s resolution, which was introduced Thursday morning by NDP MLA Jamie Moses, urged the province to develop better policies to protect youth in sports, such as prohibiting coaches and teachers from having students in their homes, and implementing a dedicated text/phone line for athletes to report instances of sexual assault.

The resolution was debated for an hour, but the governing Progressive Conservatives ultimately refused to let it go to a vote.

The proposed resolution comes after former coach Kelsey Albert Dana McKay was charged last month with multiple offences, including sexual assault and luring.

Winnipeg police got reports from five adults who allege McKay assaulted them between 2004 and 2011, while they were students and played football at Churchill High School and Vincent Massey Collegiate, where McKay coached.

Kelsey Albert Dana McKay is pictured in this photo posted from the Vincent Massey Collegiate Trojans football team Twitter account on Sept. 23, 2021. He’s charged with numerous sexual offences against players he used to coach. (VMC Trojans Football/Twitter)

Since his arrest, three more complainants have come forward, police said. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Wilson has taken up the charge of trying to protect young athletes from sexual predators.

He told reporters on Thursday that he saw the resolution as a way for government to commit to working on ways to make sports safer.

“All we are asking today, and all the NDP were asking here today, was let’s continue the discussion. Let’s work together to make this work,” Wilson said.

“This should be a bipartisan issue. This isn’t a left and right issue. This is a right and wrong issue.”

He wants the government to better advertise its resources that protect young athletes. He acknowledged there is already a phone line to support people in sport, but said he doubts many people are even aware of it.

He also wants to see efforts to warn people of the dangers of grooming — an individual gaining a person’s trust, breaking down their defences and then manipulating them for sexual purposes.

A setback like Thursday’s is “basically telling victims to stay in the shadows, and these predators to keep lurking in the shadows,” Wilson said.

Kids deserve ‘more than a 1-hour debate’: minister

After question period, the PC government put up Education Minister Wayne Ewasko and Sport Minister Andrew Smith to defend the response to the resolution.

They accused the NDP of playing politics with a sensitive issue.

“Our kids, our youth deserve far more than a one-hour debate to move forward with making sure that we’ve got safety measures in place,” Ewasko said.

The government wouldn’t commit immediately on Thursday to any specific measures.

Ewasko said an outright ban on students visiting a teacher’s home would have complications. For example, a teacher could also be the parent of a child at their school, and their child might invite their friends over.

The ministers said they are pursuing measures to protect young people from harm. 

On Wednesday, Sport Manitoba held a news conference in which it urged people to add its 24-hour confidential support line into their contact lists.

As well, Smith said he spoke Wednesday with Sheldon Kennedy, a former hockey player who survived sexual abuse, on ways the province can move forward.

On the same day, Ewasko wrote in a letter to school divisions saying all coaches in the K-12 school system must now take the Respect in Sport program, which educates individuals on ensuring a safe environment for athletes.

“This is an evolving issue and we always have to make sure we keep on top of it and work together to help protect our children,” Smith said.

Bond between coach, player tight

Kaden Traverse, a linebacker with the Winnipeg Rifles, wants the province to act quickly to prevent other athletes from being exploited.

He was among the teens and parents of football players who were in the legislature’s gallery Thursday to watch the debate.

“The trust that an athlete has in their own coach is bar none, aside from maybe a family member or a very close long-term friend,” the 17-year-old said.

“The fact that a human being could abuse that trust is appalling, and the fact that there were there was a method for them to be able to do it is ridiculous in the first place,” he said. 

“I’m here in support of trying to make sure that’s not able to happen.”

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