At first glance, a small-claims lawsuit looks like a $6,000 squabble between the Ontario Cycling Association and a father, Jeff Archbold, who alleges his teenaged daughter was “illegally” suspended from elite provincial programs after he complained about a coach.
But the crux of Archbold’s claim transcends his demand for legal fees and training costs.
The 51-year-old’s accusations hinge on his right as a parent to question a coach’s sexual history — citing the sport’s code of conduct and ethics as grounds to ask about his hiring — without eliciting reprisals “to silence him,” according to allegations contained within Archbold’s complaint.
“I will do whatever it takes to try to change the culture,” Archbold said in an interview, claiming cycling officials breached their own bylaws and policies in disciplining him, then his daughter Ema.
“(And to) make sure kids and parents know that they should be able to ask questions and feel comfortable.”
In its statement of defence, the Ontario Cycling Association denies all of Archbold’s allegations and “specifically, denies all claims of bad faith, breach of contract and failure to adhere to internal bylaws and policies with respect to the disciplinary proceedings” described in the claim.
The association also asked the court to dismiss the case. The allegations contained in the lawsuit have not been tested in court.
In Archbold’s claim, the Toronto-based engineer alleges that the sport’s discipline panel made him apologize to veteran coach Rick Lee in “retaliation” for Archbold privately “discussing his discomfort” with other adults about the provincial body periodically using Lee to train youth cyclists, including his daughter.
Lee, an Australian native, was cleared 11 years ago of rape charges levelled by a teenaged girl he’d met on an adult dating website to arrange a sexual encounter while visiting the U.S. Then 51, Lee was travelling with a group of Australian youth cyclists and his arrest made international headlines. Four months after charges were laid, a Pennsylvania prosector announced that the girl — 15 at the time, unbeknownst to Lee — had lied to Lee about her age, lied about being raped, recanted all accusations. Charges were dropped.
Archbold is not alleging Lee has done anything improper in Canada, nor is he alleging his daughter experienced any inappropriate behaviour.
Ontario Cycling Association CEO Jim Crosscombe declined to be interviewed because the case was before the court. He did respond, in part, to an email from the Star stating the association welcomes queries about coaches.
“Anyone — parents, participants, other stakeholders — can and should ask questions or raise concerns about any coach’s background, behaviour or performance,” Crosscombe said in an email.
“OCA takes every question or concern extremely seriously and endeavours to address each and every question or concern as soon as it possibly can.”
Crosscombe added that “Mr. Lee has been engaged periodically by OCA on a sessional basis as a track coach” and that “as required by OCA, Mr. Lee has cleared a vulnerable sector search and a criminal reference check.”
The Star reached Lee by phone but in a brief conversation, he declined to be interviewed.
Ward Black, volunteer president of Lee’s employer, the National Cycling Centre Hamilton, described Lee in a recent statement to the Star as having “an impeccable reputation in the development of cyclists at all levels” and that Lee was “forthright” with all Canadian sport and immigration officials regarding the 2008 incident and passed “all necessary security checks” before being granted permanent residency status in Canada in late 2009.
After being made aware of Archbold’s claim against the Ontario Cycling Association, Black wrote in a separate email to the Star “we note that neither Mr. Lee nor the National Cycling Centre Hamilton is a defendant, which was clearly a deliberate decision made by Mr. Archbold to try and silence our side of the story.”
“The claim is nothing more than a vicious, ill-informed collateral attack on Mr. Lee in the guise of a lawsuit,” Black continued. “For years, Mr. Archbold has been attacking Mr. Lee, and this is in continuance of those attacks.”
Archbold’s statement of claim, filed in Ontario Superior Court in early November, details a flurry of clashes over the past 19 months between him, Lee, the Ontario Cycling Association’s Crosscombe and cycling board members.
The litigation comes at a time when the amateur sports world, here and abroad, grapples with how best to protect young or vulnerable athletes from abuse and harassment from people in powerful positions. In Canada, that question has been raised in criminal cases such as that of former national ski coach Bertrand Charest, convicted in 2017 of sex crimes committed in the 1990s against young female skiers. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, where he remains.
In 2018, three former national junior team skiers sued Alpine Canada for not doing enough to protect them from Charest’s sexual abuse. In July 2019, Alpine Canada announced an out-of-court settlement had been reached and that the national ski organization was committed to changing its code of conduct to bolster athlete safety.
Ema Archbold, a promising cyclist, said in an interview that she’s taking a break from the sport but intends to resume training and competing sometime next year.
The following summary, drawn from the statement of claim and interviews with Archbold, describes his version of the feuding:
- Archbold said the moment that raised “huge red flags” for him occurred in December of 2017 when he asked an Ontario Cycling Association coach (no longer with the organization) why he worked with Lee. Archbold claims this coach said he was instructed by a senior association official to “use Rick Lee or quit,” according to allegations in the lawsuit.
After that, Archbold stated he began “speaking privately with other adults about his unease and discomfort with having Mr. Lee coaching his daughter and other youth” and that the cycling association was forcing the coach (with whom he’d spoken in December of 2017) to use Lee.
- Lee found out Archbold was talking about him behind his back. At a provincial cycling championship on March 4, 2018, Lee “verbally threatened and harassed” him, Archbold claims.
- Archbold filed a formal harassment complaint against Lee with the cycling association. Lee filed a formal complaint against Archbold, alleging damage to his reputation.
- On May 10, 2018, Archbold was directed by a three-person discipline panel, which included CEO Jim Crosscombe, to apologize in writing to Lee for “discuss(ing) personal matters of other coaches, athletes or related individuals.”
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- Archbold wrote the apology but challenged the disciplinary panel, alleging it hadn’t followed its bylaws and policies as required by the Ontario Corporations Act. He claims in his lawsuit that there’s “no prohibition or limit to discussing personal matters in any OCA bylaw or policy” and that there’s “nothing in the OCA code of conduct and ethics that prevents anyone from speaking truthfully.”
He also claims the discipline panel refused to state how “they determined that the actions of an OCA coach who searched for and found sexual relations with a teenage girl, while coaching other teenage boys and girls, were not related to coaching morals and ethics but rather were a ‘personal matter.’ ”
- Archbold, a longtime volunteer club coach who stopped coaching about six months ago, provided the Star with the discipline committee decision against him. The conclusion read:
“It is neither your responsibility nor right to discuss personal matters of other coaches, athletes or related individuals while operating in your capacity as a coach or member of the OCA. As such, we are issuing the following warning: you must cease and desist this behaviour immediately or face suspension from the OCA. Further, we expect you to write an apology letter to Messrs. Lee and Black.”
- Archbold alleged in an interview that he requested but did not receive from cycling officials the list of coaching requirements that officials said Lee met in order to work for the provincial body. Archbold continued to press cycling officials about his claims of bylaw and policy violations related to his sanction.
- On May 28, 2018, provincial cycling’s discipline panel suspended Archbold’s daughter Ema from Team Ontario track cycling activities for a year without notice, citing an Athlete Code of Conduct infraction. (A cycling official complained Ema failed to ride for Team Ontario during national youth championship races; Archbold asserts Ema had her Team Ontario coach’s approval to compete with another province’s cyclists after the coach said “OK” when told of her plan to ride with others.)
According to Archbold’s claim, Ema did not see the complaint against her for 17 weeks, which he alleges is contrary to provincial policies and bylaws.
- Jeff Archbold hired a lawyer to appeal Ema’s “illegal suspension” so she could continue to train and compete.
“The suspension was excessive and draconian and was in retaliation and harassment against Mr. Archbold,” Archbold alleges in his lawsuit.
- Archbold claims Crosscombe, the cycling CEO, did not respond to Ema’s lawyer’s correspondence. Her appeal went to a third-party case manager for mediation, then to an adjudicator for final review. The adjudicator, Brian Ward of Swim Ontario, ruled that Ema must write a letter of apology to the Team Ontario coach and the provincial body, and that she receive a written reprimand from cycling officials, to be removed from her file after 12 months. Ward did not impose a suspension (essentially ending the initial year-long suspension).
Archbold provided a copy of Ward’s Nov. 16, 2018, decision to the Star. As part of Ward’s findings, he recognized that Ema Archbold is a minor, “has been a hard-working athlete and has no previous history of discipline” and that she expressed “remorse about the situation.” He wrote that Team Ontario “should have been clearer about the impact of Archbold’s decision to leave the team — why it was wrong and how it may affect other athletes” and “that it would have been helpful to raise their concerns more immediately with a minor athlete.”
Ward also found Ema “acted in her own best interests to the possible detriment of her teammates and the team at large,” according to his written review.
In an interview, Archbold claimed that after Ema wrote her apology letter, Ontario cycling officials squeezed her out of elite training in late 2018 and early 2019, which he says effectively fulfilled the original year-long suspension.
Archbold said he believes the cycling association punished his daughter to exact revenge on him for doggedly demanding answers about Lee and adherence to the discipline panel’s bylaws.
“You’re going to come after my 16-year-old daughter when you’re not following your policies and bylaws because you want to intimidate me because I had the audacity — let’s put heavy sarcasm on that — to ask questions about a coach? ” Archbold said in an interview.
In November of 2008, Lee spoke to reporters outside his hotel near Allentown, Penn., after the rape charges were dropped. He’d been in jail pending trial for about four months before being released.
Lee was quoted as saying he accepted “some responsibility for an error in my decision-making,” according to a published report. He also described his actions as “immoral” and “I’m not proud of that.”
The teen who falsely accused Lee later told investigators she’d invited him into her home and they’d had consensual sex, according to published reports. As part of the investigation clearing Lee of all charges, police uncovered emails in which the girl told Lee she was 18 or 19 (it’s unclear which), according to media reports.
Earlier this year, Archbold tried to recoup costs without suing the provincial cycling body. In a 12-page letter dated May 24, his lawyer, Andrew Carvajal, requested approximately $900 in cycling-related costs and $5,107.61 in legal fees from the Ontario Cycling Association due to its “arbitrary and high-handed actions.”
A month later, OCA lawyer Macdonald R.I. Allen sent a one-page response that read in part:
“The OCA does not owe your clients any money, nor has the OCA caused your clients any damage. Your clients have been the authors of their own misfortunes.”