University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

The University of Victoria and the head coach of its women’s rowing team have denied allegations of demeaning and aggressive treatment made in a lawsuit filed last summer by a former student and team member.

In a response to the civil claim by Lily Copeland, Barney Williams and the university say the training environment during the 2018-19 season was not hostile and the coach’s communication was always professional.

The defendants say the training was “competitive and rigorous intended to foster the athletic abilities” of Copeland and the other coxswain.

They say Williams’ communication with Copeland was “respectful and appropriate for team coaching designed to maximize performance.”

Copeland’s statement of claim filed in British Columbia Supreme Court alleges Williams would berate her inside a locked storage structure known as the “sauna,” standing close to her and speaking aggressively.

It says Copeland suffered injuries including stress-induced physiological symptoms and lost self-esteem, while the university failed to provide her with a safe training environment.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

“At no time did Williams ever have a meeting with (Copeland) in any locked room, including the sauna,” says the defendants’ response, filed in November.

“While Williams would have debriefing meetings with (Copeland) and others,” occasionally in the sauna, “they were always professional, objective, and constructive intended to provide feedback,” it states.

“The door is often kept closed to retain heat … but other athletes and coaches would regularly enter the room at any time.”

Copeland alleges in her lawsuit that she was often late or missed academic classes as a result of the so-called “sauna episodes,” while the team’s assistant coach, Sam Heron, took steps to comfort and shield her.

Heron’s actions included waiting outside the door and escorting her away from practices, according to the statement of claim filed last July.

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

RELATED: University of Victoria, rowing coach sued over alleged ‘fat shaming’ and verbal abuse

READ MORE: UVic threatens any athletes who speak about rowing coach investigation

William’s response denies Heron took any of the alleged actions, but says if she did, she did not advise Williams of her concerns.

The coach also denies allegations that he criticized Copeland’s weight and that he told her to “toughen up” in relation to her mental health.

The lawsuit alleges the university failed to train or supervise Williams properly, failed to adopt appropriate coaching standards for varsity athletes and failed to take adequate steps when Copeland complained informally to the associate director of sport in October 2018. She later made a formal complaint through the university’s equity and human rights office.

The school hired an adjudicator who found Williams’ behaviour did not breach the campus discrimination and harassment policy.

The university has since implemented a professional code for coaches and added various resources to support student athletes. It also hired a director of varsity performance sport last fall to oversee varsity athletics “with a clear focus on safe sport,” it said in an update posted online in December.

Copeland’s lawsuit argues both Williams and the school owed her a duty of care to provide safe environments for learning, training and competition.

The non-adoption of national U Sports and Safe Sports guidelines does not constitute negligence on the school’s part, the response to her lawsuit says.

The defendants deny that Copeland suffered from any of the injures she claims and assert “no circumstances existed or were known to (the university) that (Copeland) was ever suffering harm,” it says.

Copeland “has not been harmed by her experience at UVic, nor from her relationship with Williams as her coach as alleged or at all,” it says.

READ MORE: Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

READ MORE: More rowers come forward with complaints about coach, criticism of UVic

The response also points to a series of seemingly cordial text messages between Copeland and Williams in December 2018 and January 2019, as well as a thank-you card she signed at the end of the 2019 season.

Copeland expressed “moments of performance anxiety for which she sought and received support,” the defendants say, denying the allegations that Copeland told Williams she was scared of him and that their interactions had significantly aggravated her mental health challenges.

Rowing Canada is also conducting an investigation into Williams.

Just Posted

(PQB News file photo)
Parksville Fire Department reminds residents of backyard burning and fireworks bans

Beach fires are always prohibited by provincial legislation

Parksville Coun. Doug O’Brien. (PQB News file photo)
Parksville Coun. Doug O’Brien explains opposition to 4-way stop at high-traffic intersection

‘None of us on council have the education or training to recommend traffic control systems’

The Parksville Civic and Technology Centre at 100 Jensen Ave. Chesapeake Shores film crew will be on location from May 17 until May 19, 2021. (PQB News file photo)
‘Chesapeake Shores’ to film at Parksville Civic and Technology Centre starting May 17

Public parking limited on Jensen Avenue and Craig Street during filming

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue manager Ken Neden, as he goes over the events of the Qualicum Falls river rescue on Dec. 12, 2020, for a United Kingdom television program “Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera’. (Mandy Moraes photo)
UK TV show spreading news of daring Qualicum Falls river rescue across the world

Arrowsmith SAR trio share their accounts for ‘Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera’

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
MISSING: Salt Spring RCMP find woman’s car, still seek Island resident

Sinikka Gay Elliott is 5’3” with a slim build and dark brown short hair

The Sooke Animal Food and Rescue Society (SAFARS) helps make a difference to more than 50 feral cats in the region. (Contributed - SAFARS)
Vancouver Island volunteers making life easier feral cats

Food, veterinary services and more helps make a difference to abandoned cats in the region

Most Read