NDP MP Peter Julian said at a parliamentary committee meeting Thursday that Canada Soccer is worse at handling certain “important” issues than Hockey Canada.
The statement came during a questioning of former Canada Soccer president, Steven Reed. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage focused on the hiring and conduct of disgraced former soccer coach Bob Birarda by a B.C. community club, including the abuse alleged to have been committed by him.
“Quite frankly, I believe that Canada Soccer is worse than Hockey Canada in many respects when dealing with these important issues,” Julian said, referring to allegations of sexual abuse and mismanagement within both sporting bodies.
Reed served as president of Canada Soccer from 2017 to 2020 and previously as president of BC Soccer from 2006 to 2009. He also served in a vice-president role and as chair of the finance committee for Canada Soccer.
He told the parliamentary committee he was unaware that Birarda had been hired by the community club until 2017. Birarda was sentenced to nearly 16 months in jail in 2022 for sex offences that “immeasurably harmed” four female teenage athletes.
“We know that a plethora of young girls and young women have been sexually assaulted by Mr. Birarda,” said Conservative MP Rachael Thomas in questioning Reed. “We know that likely could have been prevented had you used your voice. What would you say to those victims now?”
Reed said he was “absolutely appalled” by what happened and wanted to extend his apologies to victims.
After roughly 30 minutes of questioning, the committee took the decision to have Reed answer questions under oath.
“I didn’t have the authority as the president of B.C. Soccer to go out and alert the community,” Reed said when asked about whether he would have told others about Birarda’s misconduct.
Reed was repeatedly questioned by politicians about the lack of action he allegedly took when it came to protecting players from Birarda.
“You had a responsibility to ensure there were no further victims,” Julian said. It appears that the entire Canada Soccer mechanism failed in that regard and I’m quite frankly stunned by what you’re telling us today.”
“What we’ve established this afternoon is that you felt no moral onus to make sure that other young athletes weren’t at risk of abuse, given the abuse you were already aware of after Bob Birarda left your purview,” added Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner.
Reed said the system and how the various bodies operated at the time didn’t have mechanisms in place to track coaches who may have been accused of misconduct.
Coastal FC, the community soccer club that previously employed Birarda as a coach, did not immediately respond to questions about his employment.
Reed was also questioned about the broadcasting and sponsorship deal Canada Soccer signed with Canada Soccer Business (CSB) regarding the distribution and rights of Canadian international women’s and men’s matches and the process of reaching that deal.
—Nick Wells, The Canadian Press