Canadian paddler alleges he was victim of harassment

An emerging Canadian paddler says he was the victim of harassment by a teammate and was then ostracized from the national team after reporting it to officials, according to allegations in a lawsuit obtained exclusively by CBC Sports.

Philipe Turcanu, 19, is seeking more than a $ 500,000 in damages from Canoe Kayak Canada (CKC), the sport’s governing body, and fellow paddler Connor Fitzpatrick.

The Ottawa-area athlete claims he was the victim of “a pattern of harassment, bullying and demeaning treatment” by Fitzpatrick, and at one point “feared for his life” when his older teammate threatened him while holding a knife.

Turcanu further alleges he was subjected to “crude sexual humour and coercion,” in the 31-page statement of claim, filed in Ontario Superior Court. He claims CKC did nothing about Fitzpatrick’s behaviour.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Casey Wade, the CEO of CKC, said in a statement the organization “vigorously denies” any responsibility.

“CKC is committed to providing a safe sport environment for all participants,” Wade said. “We have policies and protocols in place to provide fair and robust reviews of all incidents that are reported to us.” 

He said CKC will not comment further “while the legal process is ongoing.” 

Fitzpatrick, from Dartmouth, N.S., was served with the lawsuit just before a race this past weekend in Montreal.

He has yet to file a statement of defence or respond to repeated requests for comment from CBC. But throughout a recent CKC disciplinary process, he rejected many of Turcanu’s allegations.

“I am extremely disappointed that a fellow athlete and training mate has gone to great lengths to fabricate, exaggerate and embellish facts in an effort to damage my reputation,” Fitzpatrick wrote in his submissions to the disciplinary panel, which have been viewed by CBC. 

Sharing an apartment  

The lawsuit describes Turcanu as a paddler with a bright future, whose “performance threshold” met the level for Olympic competition in 2020 and beyond. He finished sixth in a two-man event at 2018 U23 World Championships.

In November 2018, Turcanu, then 18, and Fitzpatrick shared an apartment while attending a CKC training camp in Florida.

He claims Fitzpatrick’s behaviour cost him a tutoring client — when he allegedly played pornography out loud while Turcanu was on a video call — and later pressured him for details about women he’d slept with.

Fitzpatrick then tracked down one of those women, whom Turcanu was dating, on social media and told her a false story about Turcanu visiting a strip club, according to the lawsuit.

Turcanu alleges CKC was aware of Fitzpatrick’s propensity for harassment, and says he took his concerns to senior members of the national team.

He claims the most serious incident occurred a few days later when Fitzpatrick, “enraged” after hearing of Turcanu’s complaints, used a knife to break into his room and threatened to “knock him the f–k out.”

Fitzpatrick “held up the knife” throughout the incident, according to the lawsuit.

“His behaviour was unpredictable and erratic,” the lawsuit says, and Turcanu “feared for his life.”

As a paddler, Turcanu met the level for Olympic competition, according to his lawsuit. (Submitted by Philipe Turcanu)

Fitzpatrick described the encounter quite differently in his submissions to CKC. He acknowledges that entering the room was “poor judgement” made in the “heat of the moment.”

But his use of what he describes as a butter knife was “irrelevant,” he said, because it was used as a key, not a weapon. 

“It could have just as well been a teaspoon,” he told the disciplinary panel. “At no time did I raise it, point it at [Turcanu] or make any threats.” 

Shortly after the incident, Turcanu contacted his father, who urged him to call the police. But in an interview with CBC Sports, Turcanu says he didn’t want to.

“I was really, really scared about what would actually happen to Connor,” Turcanu said. “I wouldn’t just be ruining this guy’s paddling career but I would actually be ruining the rest of his life.”

Instead, he sought refuge at the apartment of his coach, Andreas Dittmer, who, Turcanu says, attempted an informal face-to-face mediation the next day, which Turcanu secretly recorded.

The meeting was unsuccessful, Turcanu says, because seeing Fitzpatrick “was distressing and traumatic.” He abruptly left the camp and flew back to Ottawa.

‘Major infractions’

Turcanu filed a complaint with CKC shortly after, and says he trusted officials would take steps to address Fitzpatrick’s behaviour.

“I was honestly very convinced that this whole thing was going to be solved internally and that Connor was going to get disciplined and … I would get the support that I needed from the Federation,” he told CBC Sports in an interview.

A disciplinary panel accepted many of the allegations, finding Fitzpatrick’s behaviour, on numerous occasions, amounted to “major infractions” of CKC’s code of conduct.

And though its findings, which CBC Sports has seen, acknowledged Turcanu’s fear for his safety during the incident with the knife, it did not accept that Fitzpatrick “used the knife in a threatening manner.”

Turcanu took his concerns to senior members of the national team. (Submitted by Philipe Turcanu)

Regarding his contact with the woman Turcanu said he had slept with, Fitzpatrick told the panel Turcanu “had established a pattern of lying,” which “included lying about having sex with one of my female friends … so I asked her directly.”

The panel rejected that claim and found Fitzpatrick was trying to embarrass Turcanu. In December, the panel suspended Fitzpatrick for two months, a punishment Turcanu calls a “slap on the wrist.”

It also suspended Turcanu for two months, for surreptitiously recording Dittmer’s failed mediation session.

Turcanu filed an appeal, but eventually dropped it. 

Diagnosed with PTSD

Turcanu says the last few months have been difficult. In January, after being promised a spot to train with the senior men paddlers, he was not invited, meaning his time with Canada’s top paddlers was effectively curtailed. This was part of a pattern of “progressive isolation and lack of support by the CKC,” the lawsuit claims.

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick continues to train with the men’s national team. He was recently placed on a men’s national team that will compete in a series of upcoming races.

Turcanu moved to France, where he’s currently training without a country to represent.

“They froze me off the team,” he said. “They didn’t give me any support. They gave me really no other choice but to have to go and try to pursue this in some other way.”

He was recently diagnosed with PTSD that includes flashbacks of Fitzpatrick breaking into his room, according to his statement of claim.

Along with the financial damages, he is also seeking an injunction prohibiting Fitzpatrick from competing at any event in Ontario, where Turcanu has also qualified.

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