Justin Mitchell, in a photo with young athletes from 2016, has been banned from coaching in any Water Polo Canada-sanctioned event following accusations of bullying and sexual harassment. (Black Press Media files)

B.C. youth coach banned amid sexual harassment, bullying scandal: Water Polo Canada

Justin Mitchell can’t take part in Water Polo Canada events or clubs

A Langley water polo coach has been banned for life from coaching or taking part in events organized by the sport’s national organization, after allegedly using sexually charged language and berating his teenaged athletes.

Water Polo Canada (WPC) held hearings last fall into the conduct of long-time Fraser Valley Water Polo (FVWP) coach Justin Mitchell. The report and announcement of suspension was released Tuesday.

Mitchell, one of the founders of the FVWP club in 2007, was the subject of complaints in the fall of 2016 and again in 2017. Water Polo Canada began looking into the matter as early as 2016.

“The evidence established a pattern of frequently sexualized, negative, abusive, and sometimes aggressive behaviour and language used by the respondent [Mitchell] that did not respect the athlete-coach relationship and did not seem to account for the impact he was having on the young athletes on his teams. But it also established his longstanding commitment and dedication to the sport of water polo and to his club,” said the report, which was released this month.

Several witnesses, most of whom were teenaged athletes at the time of the incidents, testified about interactions with Mitchell that sometimes left them in tears.

A witness, identified as CD, said Mitchell would switch between laughing and joking and swearing at her, and that she often dreaded going to practice.

Mitchell would allegedly yell at the teenaged girls to “get their tits out of the water” during practices, and once allegedly promised players “a bathtub full of alcohol” if they won an upcoming competition – although no alcohol was actually handed out.

He told another female witness, AB, that she gave men in the hot tub area of the pool “hard ons,” and once contacted the girl’s mother, saying he believed her father was sexually assaulting her.

AB alleged Mitchell touched her upper thigh without permission on multiple occasions while she was doing leg swings during training, and also tickled her stomach on two occasions.

Some of Mitchell’s extensive social media communication with AB was saved, including a message he sent declaring it was “National Holy Cow, You’re Hot Day,” and one saying “you would suck it not blow it.”

In 2015, he encouraged her to move in with him, according to the report.

A witness identified as EF, who swam with the club from ages 12 to 16, testified she was under so much stress from dealing with Mitchell that she began drinking in Grade 8.

An initial investigation by a former board member of the FVWP in 2017 resulted in Mitchell being asked to apologize to one swimmer and take a Respect in Sport course. He was suspended for a time, but according to the former board member, Mitchell then dropped the board member’s son from the team, allegedly in retaliation.

The son, identified as GH, testified that Mitchell would discuss pornographic websites and shared pick-up lines with the teenaged boys.

Although the WPC panel that heard the evidence did not confirm every single accusation made, the panel ruled that Mitchell’s actions amounted to harassment and sexual harassment.

“The respondent displayed an utter failure to respect what conduct is appropriate and legal, and the nature of his duties when in a position of power and trust,” the report stated.

Although Mitchell had already left the FVWP and Water Polo Canada, he has now been banned for life from taking part as a coach or at any WPC-sanctioned event, and he is banned from even attempting to be reinstated in the organization.

A parent formerly involved with the club, who asked to remain anonymous, said there were always rumours swirling about Mitchell.

He was suspended, and eventually an email was sent out letting parents know he had been let go by the club, said the parent.

The report was somewhat critical of the FVWP for a lack of oversight of Mitchell’s behaviour.

“A remarkable thread that tracked through the evidence of many of the young witnesses was that the respondent’s behaviour, which the witnesses clearly viewed as aggressive to the point of being offensive, was known in large part to other adults in positions of authority – including other coaches, parent observers, and association board members,” said the report.

“Although the sexual behaviour toward females was well concealed, the abusive yelling and swearing that the athletes described as being common at practices seems to have been observable to anyone within earshot of the pool.”

FVWP’s website still mentions being founded by “The Mitchell brothers, a dedicated and highly accomplished B.C. water polo family.”

The site also mentions it has entered a “new era” recently with the hiring of a new head coach.

Mitchell participated in the early stages of the WPC hearing, but dropped out and ceased communicating with the WPC by the summer of 2018, according to the ruling.

Attempts were made to contact Justin Mitchell through email and Facebook messages for comment on the WPC decision, but he has not yet responded.

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