Gymnastics Canada suspends Edmonton-based coach in wake of sex-abuse allegations

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Gymnastics Canada suspends Edmonton-based coach in wake of sex-abuse allegations

Gymnastics Canada has suspended Edmonton-based coach Michel Arsenault amid allegations he sexually abused some of his former students in Quebec in the 1980s and '90s.

"No athlete should be subject to this type of conduct, and we are working tirelessly to ensure that all of our participants are able to take part in our sport in a safe and welcoming environment," Richard Crépin, chair of the board of directors for Gymnastics Canada, said in a news release.

A Wednesday report by the sports unit of Radio-Canada, CBC's French-language network, detailed the accounts of three gymnasts who said Arsenault sexually abused them when they were minors and members of Flipgym in Montreal.

Arsenault was fired from the gym in 1993 and left Quebec in 1994. He settled in Edmonton and got a job coaching gymnastics at a local gym. In 2002, he and his wife opened their own gym, Champions Gymnastics, which issued a statement yesterday in wake of the Radio-Canada report saying Arsenault would no longer be involved in any of the gym's activities and was barred from the premises.

Arsenault, who is well known as one of Canada's top women's gymnastics coaches, has not been charged with any crime. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the initial story. 

Gymnastics Canada and the Alberta Gymnastics Federation both issued statements Thursday stressing that the safety and well-being of the sport's participants is of the highest priority. 

Peter Nicol, president and CEO of Gymnastics Canada, said Tuesday the allegations come as the national and provincial agencies are reviewing and updating all policies and procedures, ranging from how to report incidents to conducting background checks.

An important piece of this review, he told CBC News in Ottawa, is educating staff, coaches, trainers, parents and athletes about unacceptable behaviour — and what to do if it happens.

"I should know that it's not going to impact me as an athlete, that I am reporting something that is really not acceptable," Nicol said. 

"We should learn from this situation and really make sure that people feel comfortable coming forward. When they see something that is not acceptable, yes, please report it, bring it to the authorities and make sure that it is stopped."

Scott Hayes, president of the Alberta Gymnastics Federation, said its agency has policies in place around the screening of employees, coaches, judges, support staff and volunteers who travel and work with the athletes.

"We continue to review and update our policies and procedures to ensure that they meet our commitment to safe sport and minimize risks to our participants," Hayes said in a statement.

The notice posted yesterday on the Champions Gymnastics website said the gym is taking the allegations seriously and wants to reassure parents and children who attend the facility. The doors to the east-Edmonton gym were locked Thursday morning.

Nicol said actions taken by Gymnastics Canada, the Alberta Gymnastics Federation and Champions  Gymnastics mean Arsenault will not be able to participate in any gymnastics activities — from competitions to training camps — "so his contact to any athlete should be cut to zero at this time."

Nicol said the suspensions will remain in effect until the issue has reached "resolution."