Artistic swimmers file lawsuit against Canadian governing body

Former Artistic Swimmer for Canada, Sion Ormond shares her story of abuse suffered by her and teammates while at Canada Artistic Swimming, which forced an early retirement, when she should have been at the prime of her career, chasing her dream.

MONTREAL — Five former elite artistic swimmers from Canada announced Tuesday they’ve filed a proposed class action against the country’s governing body for the sport for allegedly failing to provide a safe environment for athletes.

Chloe Isaac, Gabrielle Boisvert, Erin Wilson, Sion Ormond and Gabriella Brisson allege Canada Artistic Swimming did not provide an environment "free of psychological abuse, neglect and harassment" during their time with the program from 2007 to 2020.

They also accuse current head coach Gabor Szauder and previous coaches of disrespectful or abusive behaviour.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In a videoconference, Isaac said artistic swimming encourages "unrealistic and unhealthy" beauty standards, including pressure to maintain an unhealthy weight.

"We’re asked to crush our identity, our authenticity for the benefit of the team so that we all swim in unison," said Isaac, who was a member of the national team from 2008 to 2014.

She also described the effects of being pressured to maintain a low body weight.

"I have experienced eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia," she said.

"Since I was no longer able to take all this pressure, I was prescribed antidepressants in the hope of alleviating my anxiety. "

Isaac said she tried to speak with her colleagues and technical team to get help eight years ago.

Wilson said she has similar experiences during her time on the team from 2007 to 2013.

She said team members had to sign an agreement to respect a weight limit, with "serious consequences" if they were more than three per cent over the target.

Cara Cameron, one of the lawyers working on the file, alleges that Canada Artistic Swimming was made aware of the problems experienced by athletes over the last decade, both verbally and in written form.

"The responses were, let’s say, inadequate," she said.

The lawsuit comes after Canada Artistic Swimming released results of an independent investigation in October into complaints about harassment and a culture of fear at the team’s training centre in Montreal.

While the investigation found no instances of physical abuse, sexual abuse or hazing, nearly half of the those interviewed said they’d witnessed or experienced psychological abuse by coaches, staff or other athletes.

Canada Artistic Swimming chief executive officer Jackie Buckingham released a statement after Tuesday’s videoconference.

Buckingham said the organization commends the courage of the athletes who spoke Tuesday and added Canada Artistic Swimming is working to improve things for the future.

Buckingham also said an independent safe-sport investigation late last year did not find "sufficient evidence to conclude there is an unsafe training environment in the senior national team program."

Szauder did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Former Olympic gold medallist Sylvie Frechette appeared by videoconference on Tuesday to offer her support to the athletes and to denounce a situation she said had gone on too long.

Frechette, who won the women’s solo event in 1992, said she was angry, though not surprised, after hearing a number of stories over the past few weeks.

"I realized with a lot of emotion that what I read, it’s a bit my own story too," she said.

"Not all, but a bit too much. That made me realize that the more times change, the more they stay the same. I’m so sorry to have not reacted earlier."

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