Abuse counsellor questions role of hockey team’s compliance officer

By Grant Fleming

STRATFORD, ONTARIO – A counsellor at a women’s shelter wonders why a compliance officer for the local junior men’s hockey team dealing with a rape scandal failed to show up at a sensitivity training workshop.

Jasmine Clark helps abused women at Optimism Place in Stratford. She also runs workshops to educate people about sexual violence.

Two months ago, Dan Mathieson, the president of the Stratford Cullitons hockey team, asked Clark and her colleagues to educate players and officials about abuse of women. Mathieson’s move came after one of his players was found guilty of rape.

On October 3, 2014, Mitch Vandergunst, 20, was convicted on two counts of sexual assault involving a young woman. The rapes occurred in July 2013, in South Huron, Ontario.

On February 4th of this year, Vandergunst was sentenced to one year in jail plus two years of probation. He’s appealing the decision.

A publication ban prohibits identifying the victim.

Despite his criminal proceedings, Vandergunst remained with the hockey team for two seasons, including for four months following his conviction. During his trial, the team appointed him as the assistant captain.

Vandergunst was dismissed from the team on February 5th.

Clark said the seriousness of Vandergunst’s crime should be a wake-up call to everyone linked to the community-owned Cullitons.

“Now that it’s out in the open, the team needs to educate itself [about sexual consent],” Clark said, adding that most people, including hockey players and team officials, don’t know enough about consent.

Clark said the prevention services coordinator for the Cullitons could benefit from the shelter’s expertise. She said he didn’t show up for her workshop.

“I don’t understand why he wasn’t there,” Clark said, referring to the February 14th session. “Isn’t that his job? He’s never been in touch.”

Mike Robinson is person in question. He’s also a police officer in Stratford.

Clark said the attendees included players, several coaches, and the team chaplain. The two-hour session featured slides, videos and a discussion.

Clark described the players as “engaged and interested,” but she added that “I saw behaviours they didn’t seem to realize were problems.”

Clark said she addressed the issue of social media. She described how some players used Facebook and Twitter to blame the victim for Vandergunst’s legal troubles. Those posts have now been removed. It’s unclear if team officials told the players to delete them.

Another example Clark cited involved the young men showing their colours at the courthouse. On the day Vandergunst was sentenced, many of his teammates arrived wearing team jackets that featured a logo of a red-face Aboriginal warrior. The young men were seen smiling while they milled around the building.

Clark said the players’ behaviour at the hearing was “inappropriate,” adding that many people, including the victim and her family, might view the show of force as an act designed to intimidate.

Clark said the Cullitons have had contact with the women’s shelter about doing a workshop each hockey season, but added that no date has been set for next year.

Clark said if Robinson isn’t able to do his job as the prevention services coordinator for the Cullitons, she thinks someone else would step in to replace him.

Responding to a question about the fact that only one female serves on the Cullitons board of directors, Clark said, “I’d be happy to be considered for a position.”

When contacted by phone, Robinson refused to answer a reporter’s questions about his duties, his knowledge of sexual consent, and why he didn’t attend the workshop.