Whitecaps FC didn't attempt to 'cover-up' sexual harassment allegations, report finds
VANCOUVER -- A long-awaited third-party report into how the Vancouver Whitecaps FC handled sexual harassment allegations dating back more than a decade is complete – but it's missing a key contributor.
The allegations involve an ex-coach of the Whitecaps FC women's team, and first came to light in a bombshell blog post published by former player Ciara McCormack back in February.
In a 28-page report released Wednesday, the Sport Law & Strategy Group found the Whitecaps didn't try to "cover-up" the allegations, but did a poor job of communicating during its investigation process.
But SLSG also acknowledged it was unable to reach the expert lawyer the Whitecaps originally hired to investigate the allegations back in 2008.
SLSG said it left six messages for the lawyer, but that she never responded to its requests for an interview.
"We weren’t able to corroborate with her what it is that she found and she determined because there was no opportunity to speak with her," said Dina Bell-Laroche, a partner with SLSG.
In addition, the company said it didn't have access to a written report summarizing the 2008 investigation, if one ever existed.
“At this point it is difficult to know if anything would have changed if we had a chance to review any documentation that she might have had provided the Whitecaps at that time,” Bell-Laroche said.
McCormack told CTV News she's taking the findings of the investigation with a grain of salt.
"Obviously the report was commissioned by the Whitecaps and paid for by the Whitecaps," she said.
First complaint from May 23, 2008
The report verified an allegation from McCormack's blog post that Whitecaps FC staff was alerted that a female player had received inappropriate text messages from her coach in May 2008.
Team owners Jeff Mallett and Greg Kerfoot said the club immediately retained the expert lawyer to investigate after the allegations were reported. The SLSG report found that to be true as well.
"They managed the issue prudently and reasonably by immediately seeking the opinion of a respected lawyer," the review found, and by doing so "the leadership team truly believed the matter had been dealt with appropriately and fairly."
The coach was required to take sensitivity training and sign a code of conduct – but he was not fired.
The review also found the coach was still given access to the apartment complex where female players lived.
At the time, the team offered suites in the apartment complex for out of town players to live in and it also supplied a suite for the coach to co-ordinate meetings.
McCormack's blog made other allegations against the coach that were not verified by the SLSG report, including inappropriate player meetings in hotel rooms and an instance where an unnamed 17-year-old female player was seen with him in the parking garage of an apartment complex at 6 a.m.
Whitecaps response to second incident in September 2008
On Sept. 26, 2008 the Canadians Soccer Association contacted Whitecaps FC about allegations made by an under-20 national team member against the same coach.
The coach "was now sending inappropriate text messages to a CSA player," according to the report.
Both organizations hired the same expert lawyer to investigate. This time, the lawyer had learned of "more innuendo conversations," and "some details about the apartment."
The coach was let go from his position with the Whitecaps and the Canadian Soccer Association on Oct. 8, 2008.
However, the report found the investigator had not advised Whitecaps FC staff to ensure he would never coach again – and the team had "neither the authority nor jurisdiction to enforce such a sanction."
CTV News learned the coach later worked for Coastal FC, a youth soccer organization in Surrey.
While the report found no evidence of a cover-up, McCormack questoined why police were never involved.
"To me, if I am a responsible adult in charge of young players in that situation, my reaction is to call the police," McCormack said.
Lack of communication
Although the SLSG report finds Whitecaps FC did not attempt to "cover-up" the 2008 incidents or "sweep the incidents under the rug," the audit does suggest the club did a poor job in communicating its initial investigation process.
"In 2008 there was a lack of effective communication that resulted in frustration, mistrust and speculation which has contributed to the lingering animosity still held by some former players today," it said.
"We learned that communication is key, immediate clear communications are critical," said Whitecaps FC co-owner Jeff Mallett.
"I feel badly, and really feel empathy for the brave women who came forward and really were the ones who were directly involved in these instances."
Mallett was not involved with the organization at the time of the 2008 allegations, however SLSG interviewed several executives who still work for the club including owner Greg Kerfoot, former president Bob Lenarduzzi, COO Rachel Lewis, and Greg Anderson.
None were made available for interviews with CTV News.
SLSG also interviewed 14 former female players, the former Whitecaps FC women's team manager Diane Voice and three coaches who requested to remain anonymous.
Delay contacting RCMP during previous incident
SLSG also reviewed two other historic incidents in which Whitecaps FC was criticized publically.
In June 2017, two players in Whitecaps FC’s U15 Boys Residency Academy were suspended after a teammate accused the youths of bullying and physical assault in the locker room.
“There was a discussion with the victim’s family about the pros and cons of involving police,” the report said, however at no point was the family advised against the action.
The club said police were contacted 48 hours after the incident had occurred.
“The Whitecaps handled this incident reasonable and in accordance with the expected practices,” SLSG said in the report.
It said the 48-hour delay in contacting the RCMP was not ideal but the incident was otherwise handled well by Whitecap staff.
SLSG also probed the hiring of a coach in October 2013 by the Whitecaps to lead their Kootenay Academy Centre.
The report said the club interviewed to the coach in January 2013 and his references and background check were verified – but there was a seven-month delay before he was hired.
The club hired the coach in September 2013 when a position became available.
Whitecaps FC later learned of racism allegations against the coach stemming from an incident that occurred in the U.K. that happened in the time between initial screenings and when he was finally hired in September 2013.
The report found the club failed by not conducting a second round of screening before hiring the coach.