Vancouver Sun

Sunday 14 March 1999

New sports equity policy could change B.C.

Scott Simpson
Vancouver Sun

A gender equity policy that could have costly implications for sports and recreation programs and facilities across B.C. and the rest of Canada was announced Friday by the city of Coquitlam and the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

The policy, detailed in an eight-page agreement between the city and Dave Morrison of Coquitlam, the father of two female gymnasts, commits the city to an unprecedented balancing of funding and support for male and female recreation programs.

The agreement calls on governments, sports agencies and clubs to change their attitudes and their systems in order to create more sports and recreation opportunities for females.

It requires private sports clubs in the city to have gender equity policies, to provide membership data broken down by gender, and to boost young female membership by 50 per cent within five years.

It also commits Coquitlam to transforming itself over the next 10 years into a gender equity model for the entire province -- at a cost that Mayor Jon Kingsbury estimated at $1.5 million.

Coquitlam decided last year to negotiate the agreement with Morrison rather than face a Human Rights Tribunal on his complaint that the city was discriminating against female sports.

Morrison first complained to the B.C. Human Rights Commission in 1992 that the city was discriminating against the female-dominated sport of gymnastics by failing to provide it with the same level of financial support as such male-dominated sports as hockey.

The city's lawyer, Bob Walker, said he is unaware of any similar policies anywhere else in North America.

The agreement means the city must balance between males and females the amount of money it spends on recreation programs, and the time it makes available at civic sports and recreation facilities.

Those measures will apply at everything from pools and recreation rooms to gyms, fields and rinks used by community sports organizations such as soccer and hockey.

The city has already adopted a gender equity policy and taken minor steps to provide more opportunities for females -- such as a decision last year to create women-only sessions in civic weight rooms.

This agreement, however, commits Coquitlam to going much, much further.

"This agreement will have implications for all municipalities in British Columbia and I hope that others embrace the opportunity to provide females with greater access to sport," said Councillor Louella Hollington, chair of the city's leisure and parks committee.

Mary-Woo Sims, chief commissioner of the B.C. Human Rights Commission, said she is aware the agreement may be attacked by some critics as an example of political correctness.

"But I think the reality is this -- we have to ask ourselves whether we are serious about making an effort to include and to increase girls' participation in sports.

"If we are serious about it we are going to have to actually take some positive, affirmative measures to make sure that happens."

By the city's own admission Coquitlam now pays out about $380,000 a year to subsidize boys' sports and $220,000 for girls' sports.

Parks and recreation officials in other Lower Mainland cities say they are interested in learning more about Coquitlam's program but aren't committing themselves to follow suit at this time.

Cities such as Surrey, Richmond and Burnaby say they already have policies in place to ensure girls are getting the same access to fields and gyms as boys. Girls' soccer has grown in Surrey and Burnaby over the last two years and participation in female weight-lifting is skyrocketing in Surrey.

Audrey Naylor of Surrey Parks and Recreation said her city is interested in looking at the Coquitlam program, saying it will likely encourage other municipalities to provide more sports opportunities for girls.

Richmond has approached the problem by having sports groups work together -- through the Richmond sports council -- to iron out problems of field allocation or ice time.

"Sports is for everyone," parks manager Dave Semple said. "We're not aware of a gender-equality issue, but if there is one we have to work together to find a solution to it."

THE EQUITY PROGRAM:

- Coquitlam will hire a consultant, at a cost of up to $40,000, to set up a data gathering system to chart gender and age-group use of sports and recreation activities and services.

- The city will strike a new gender equity committee that will make recommendations to council.

- Within three months, Coquitlam will hire a gender equity coordinator to ensure the city carries out its new mandate, as well as acting as a liaison with the school district and community sports groups.

-The city will provide $50,000 annually in grants to predominantly female non-profit sport user groups that don't have access to subsidized public buildings.

- Starting in August, all groups renting Coquitlam facilities must have a gender equity policy and must provide gender statistics to the city annually.

- Over five years, the city must reduce gender inequity by 50 per cent, and groups using city facilities must boost female participation rates by 50 per cent in that same time period.

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