Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

Rowing Canada has suspended the former head coach of the University of Victoria women’s rowing team for one year after an investigation into allegations of aggressive and demeaning treatment.

The decision released Tuesday says the suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms, including regular mentorship by a coach evaluator and completing course work that emphasizes coaching ethics and working with developing and female athletes.

It shows four team members in the 2018-19 season made complaints against Williams and a three-person panel was appointed last fall, tasked with determining whether he had breached Rowing Canada’s code of conduct or the National Coaching Certification Program code of ethics.

The panel concluded that Williams’s one-on-one interactions with one of the complainants, Lily Copeland, and his conduct at two meetings with an assistant coach, had violated his responsibilities under both codes.

The panel could not conclude that Williams’s interactions with the other complainants amounted to a violation of the codes.

The university announced Monday that Williams had resigned as the women’s rowing coach by mutual agreement as he and the athletic department determined it was in the best interest of the program.

RELATED: University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

RELATED: Harassment allegations at UVic lead to call for coaching codes of conduct

The Rowing Canada panel decision says Williams denied that any of his conduct amounted to a breach of the national codes and denied he was ever aware of negative effects his coaching had on the complainants.

It says the panel heard from 15 witnesses, including Copeland, who testified during hearings that she was excited at the start of the 2018-19 season and felt strong in her role as the team’s only returning coxswain.

Copeland testified that she was subjected to allegedly demeaning and aggressive treatment by Williams and her mental health was poor near the end of fall.

She also testified that she told Williams during a meeting before the winter break that she was scared of him, and the training program and his coaching were affecting her mental health, the panel’s decision says.

Copeland filed a lawsuit against Williams and the university last year alleging she suffered stress-induced physiological symptoms and that the school failed to provide her with a safe environment for training.

Williams and the university deny the allegations in a statement of defence filed in B.C. Supreme Court, saying the training environment was not hostile and communication was always professional.

None of the allegations or statements have been tested in court.

Williams couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on Rowing Canada’s decision.

The panel report posted on the website of Rowing Canada Aviron says Williams “failed to put Ms. Copeland’s best interests ahead of his personal desire to build a successful team, seemingly at any cost.”

“His ‘direct feedback’ approach with Ms. Copeland was unwelcomed and ultimately harmful to Ms. Copeland’s well-being,” the panel decision says.

It says Williams “knew or ought to have known” that the way he was communicating with Copeland was harmful and negatively impacting her.

The panel determined that the suspension of Williams would act as a deterrent for both him and the rowing community as a whole.

“It is important to note that several women, many of them promising athletes, testified that (his) coaching led them to leave the sport prematurely to the detriment of the sport and to these athletes,” the decision says.

In a statement reacting to the panel’s decision, the university said Williams “expressed regret” in 2019 and undertook a professional development program, which included communication, personal awareness and conflict resolution training.

After its own review, the school says it implemented several changes to its varsity sports program “to strengthen a safe and supportive environment for student-athletes.”

The changes include a professional code for coaches and the creation of a new position, director of varsity performance sport. It also created a student support co-ordinator position to provide clear options for how students can raise concerns and get support.

“UVic is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for all our varsity athletes, we want our entire community and especially our students to know that UVic takes athlete wellness seriously,” said Jim Dunsdon, associate vice-president of the division of student affairs.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press. This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Graduating goalie Mathieu Caron stops Prince George forward Nick Rheaume in Sunday’s season finale at the Chilliwack Coliseum. (Darren Francis photo)
Chilliwack Chiefs say goodbye to departing vets in pod season finale

Longtime goalie Mathieu Caron and captain Kyle Penney are among the players aging out of the BCHL

Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue workers and emergency personnel set up a command centre on Friday evening. It took KHSAR to find a lost hiker who veered off-course near Campbell Lake west of Harrison Hot Springs, finding them about 380 metres off-trai and escorted them safely to the trailhead. (Photo/Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue)
Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue guides lost hiker home

Hiker ended up almost 400 metres off-course as darkness fell on May 7

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Coho smolts. (Tanis Grower photo)
OPINION: A giant, invisible problem for Fraser salmon and how to fix it

‘Successful examples of salmon-friendly flood control can already be found throughout the Lower Mainland’

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in B.C.

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Most Read