Benjamin Copper, a 27-year-old Torontonian, is suspected of killing seven teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 17 in the Ottawa and Kingston areas. The crimes are believed to have happened between 2014 and 2022.
At this point, none of the allegations against Mr. Cooper have been proven in court.
Gymnastics Ontario President and CEO Dave Sandford said they were first made aware of the allegations against Mr. Cooper in October 2021, a month after his last job at Trillium Gymnastics in Kingston, Utah, Ontario.
After formal complaints were filed in March 2022, Gymnastics Ontario launched its own investigation the following month and notified Mr Cooper of his suspension.
Mr Sandford says police were informed afterwards.
We had two complainants who participated in our disciplinary grievance process. About the same time the announcement was made, two other people came forward with very serious allegations, and then I contacted Ottawa Police, Mr. Sandford, in an interview with CBC.
Both Trillium Gymnastics and the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre, two of Mr. Cooper’s former employers, were made aware of the investigation he was under, but the other clubs in Ontario were.
In any trial, you want to protect the integrity and confidentiality of both the victim or complainant and the accused, Sandford replies.
According to the CEO, Gymnastics Ontario monitored Mr. Cooper through its membership database and in discussions with local clubs to ensure he was not an active coach.
Mr Sandford adds that he was unaware of the seriousness of the allegations until police this week announced Mr Cooper’s arrest.
An open secret
Kim Shore, a former gymnast and co-founder of Gymnasts for Change Canada, an advocacy group fighting abuse in sports, finds it disturbing that other Ontario clubs have not been made aware of the allegations, even after an internal or police investigation has been launched.
But Ms Shore says even when allegations are made public, they often aren’t put together, which could show an emerging pattern of behavior, she says.
Kim Shore, center, co-founder of Gymnasts for Change Canada.
Photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang
“This open secrecy embedded in the policies of many of these provincial agencies is really there to protect the abuser. He doesn’t help the kids.”
— A quote from Kim Shore, co-founder of Gymnasts for Change Canada
The charges come just months after a CBC investigation found that Gymnastics Canada had promoted a coach to one of the organization’s top positions, despite complaints of inappropriate behavior by female coaches and gymnasts.
Other sports such as ice hockey and youth organizations have recently had to deal with turbulent revelations.
According to Ms. Shore, it’s not just about sexual abuse in sport.
Verbal, emotional and psychological abuse are commonplace, she says, leaving children in a vulnerable position.
This is not an isolated incident, Ms. Shore continues. I think it’s a systemic problem. I think there is a whisper network that has been covering up this abuse at the risk of innocent young children just trying to engage in an activity that brings them joy.
She is concerned that the allegations in this case date back almost ten years without an adult coming forward.
Our policies and practices are failing our children, she continues.
The Ottawa Club is not aware of the extent of the allegations
The Ottawa Gymnastics Center (OGC) has confirmed that Mr. Cooper was employed by the club from 2014 to 2019 as a recreational and competitive level coach and may not have worked with children as young as five years old.
The club says it has been made aware of Gymnastics Ontario’s internal investigation but does not know the full extent of the allegations.
We weren’t aware of it, said Mike Vieira, the club’s interim general manager.
He acknowledged that gymnastics, like other sports, has faced quite a bit of controversy over abuse, but he thinks that’s changing.
This sport, especially the culture of silence, the Old Boys Club, as you like to call it, is being dismantled, he says. It’s not like… we circulate [entraîneurs] and people just stuffed things under the rug or whatever.
Mr Vieira adds that every coach has to go through an extensive selection process and that rules are in place – and were in effect in 2014 – to ensure there are always two adults from two different programmes.
I think we turned every stone we could have back then and we continue to do so. It’s devastating because we’re really, really trying to make sure our place is a safe place and we thought that was it, he said.
CBC made several attempts to contact Trillium Gymnastics, but to no avail.
With information from Kimberly Molina, CBC