Artistic swimmers file lawsuit against Canadian governing body for abuse allegations

Five former elite artistic swimmers from Canada are suing the country's governing body for the sport for allegedly failing to provide a safe environment for athletes.

Chloe Isaac, Gabrielle Boisvert, Erin Willson, 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.

“My weight and my looks and how much my coach likes me mattered more than my skill, my talent and my work ethic,” said Willson, adding that her experiences led to her suffering from depression, anxiety and sleep and eating disorders.

Brisson, who was a member of Canada's national team from 2008 to 2014, alleged she was told to compete despite suffering from a concussion.

“They actively exerted pressure on me to do far more than what was safe... she chalked my symptoms up to a headache,” she said. “What national team captain would refuse to compete at the World Championships because they simply had a headache?”

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

“He told us we better learn to cook because we won't stay beautiful forever, so us women must find some way to keep our husbands around,” said Ormond. “He often called athletes expendable and made racially insensitive remarks.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In a statement, Canada Artistic Swimming said had looked into the allegations, even hiring a third-party investigator.

“The lead investigator determined they did not see sufficient evidence to conclude there is an unsafe training environment in the senior national team program,” they wrote, adding “Our organization recognized that there had been issues in the past and acknowledged that although we cannot repair the painful experiences some athletes have faced in the sport in the past, we are working very hard to improve things for the future.”

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. 

-With files from The Canadian Press

Newsletters

Breaking News alerts, info on contests, and special offers from partners