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TSN Senior Correspondent

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A former competitive gymnast has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Gymnastics Canada and six provincial gymnastics federations, alleging the organizations created an environment where abuse could occur and failed to take the proper steps to protect young athletes.

The 32-page claim was filed on Wednesday in the Supreme Court of British Columbia by Amelia Cline, who asked the court to certify her claim as a class action representing Canadian gymnasts who claim they were sexually, physically and/or psychologically abused since 1978.

Cline, a former member of B.C.'s provincial gymnastics team, has asked the court to award unspecified damages for past and future health care services, as well as punitive and aggravated damages. Other defendants include provincial gymnastics federations in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Other federations may not have been named as defendants because of different provincial rules about limitation periods for abuse claims.

Cline alleges coaches Vladimir and Svetlana Lashin routinely abused her and other gymnasts at the Omega Gymnastics Sports Centre in Coquitlam, B.C. Cline’s allegations have not been proven and Gymnastics Canada has not filed a statement of defence.

Cline’s lawsuit was filed two months after a group of more than 70 former gymnasts demanded Sport Canada commission an independent investigation examining the culture of Gymnastics Canada.

The legal claim also comes as athletes speak out about a purportedly widespread toxic culture within Canadian amateur sports. More than 50 athletes are involved in a proposed class-action lawsuit against Canada Artistic Swimming, alleging psychological abuse that led them into severely disordered eating.

In March, Sport Canada ordered a financial audit into Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton after more than 90 athletes signed an open letter condemning that organization’s leadership. Just last week, dozens of Canadian boxers wrote an open letter to Sport Canada complaining of a toxic culture within the sport. The letter led to the resignation of Daniel Trépanier, Boxing Canada’s high-performance director.

According to her lawsuit, Cline started training as a nine year old at Omega and beginning in the summer of 2000 was coached by the Lashins for three years.

“It is estimated that between 40 to 60 gymnasts were enrolled in the program during those three years,” Cline’s lawsuit alleges. “The abuse was perpetrated against Amelia and her fellow athletes almost daily and included conduct such as forcing athletes to perform skills beyond their capabilities; directing and requiring athletes to maintain an unhealthy weight; inappropriate physical contact, including having athletes run into Vladimir’s arms and straddle his waist.”

Cline alleges the Lashins also engaged in verbal abuse which included bullying, including statements such as “Are you stupid?” and body-shaming, including public weekly weigh-ins which were often accompanied by abusive statements such as “What have you been eating?” and “Too many cookies this week?”

After Cline said she suffered an injury in March 2003 while training to compete at the B.C. provincial championships, she alleges Vladimir forced her to weigh herself and blamed her injuries on her weight, according to Cline's lawsuit.

At the time, Cline was 14 years old and about 80 pounds, she wrote in her claim.

Cline left the gym, and the sport, in the spring of 2003 and filed a complaint about Vladimir Lashin with B.C. Gymnastics. A harassment officer with Sport B.C. was appointed to investigate.

“At the conclusion of the investigation, Amelia was denied access to the harassment officer’s report, and was not informed of any procedure to appeal the findings or decision resulting from the investigation,” she wrote in her lawsuit.

Following Cline’s complaint, Vladimir Lashin was named as a coach for Team Canada at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In June 2009, Gymnastics Canada hired him as the women’s artistic gymnastics program’s national coach/high performance director. He continued in that capacity until June 2010. 

Cline alleges Gymnastics Canada was responsible for creating and enforcing policies, practices and standards for the sport in Canada. Her lawsuit says the federal association could have imposed sanctions on provincial associations that refused to enforce proper policies.