Buckets of Data

March 29, 1997

Vancouver Sun, May. 29, 1997: Swim team stands by fired SFU coach

Filed under: Marsden — bucketsdata @ 12:47 am

Swim team stands by its fired SFU coachMarina JiminezMay 29, 1997, B1Vancouver SunSimon Fraser University swim team members are standing behind their celebrated coach, Liam Donnelly, saying hey don’t believe he harassed a former swimmer and they say his dismissal is wrong.They fear his departure will lead to the dismantling of the team, one of the best in Canada. Thirty team members wrote a letter to the Vancouver Sun calling his firing a “tremendous loss to Canadian swimming and to university athletics.”“We believe the accusations raised against Donnelly are uncharacteristic and without foundation,” said the swimmers, many of whom have known Donnelly for several years.“The university’s decision to dismiss Mr. Donnelly … was wrong based on our intimate knowledge of Liam’s professionalism and integrity as a coach”Donnelly, who coached the men’s and women’s swimming and diving clubs, lost his job last week, after a campus committee found he sexually harassed Rachel Marsden.SFU swimmers wonder what will happen to their swim program without Donnelly. “Liam was one of the best coaches in Canada,” said Graham Duthie, an SFU athlete-of-the-year.The university won’t specify the nature of the harassment but Marsden, 22, said she is a victim of date rape. She said Donnelly, who is in his late 20s, forced her to have sex during their 16-month relationship, from the spring of 1994 to the fall of 1995. He was not her coach at the time, but had coached her as a teen at New Westminster’s Hyack swim club.“I had nothing but trust in him. It was very easy for him to manipulate that situation,” Marsden said in an interview this week.“I’m glad I don’t have to carry around the burden, allowing him to walk away with the potential of him doing this to someone else.”Donnelly denies he dated or harassed Marsden and says he will sue her and fight his dismissal from SFU. He was supposed to give his version of events Wednesday, but his lawyer, Loryl Russell, postponed the press conference.“I think Liam should have an opportunity to present his evidence, ideally to the university … otherwise in a court of law,” said Russell.Several swimmers and a former coach say Marsden, a straight-A student and a talented swimmer, had an infatuation with Donnelly that became unhealthy.They claim she would hang around outside his office in the SFU athletic complex and shower him with unwanted gifts: chocolates, flowers, teddy bears, and cards.“He never dated her,” said Bill Sawchuk, Donnelly’s boss at Hyack swim club.The two men lived together at the time and worked closely together after Donnelly moved to SFU in 1993.Both Marsden and Donnelly complained about one another to police in the fall of 1995. Marsden said Donnelly sexually assaulted her: he complained Marsden harassed him. RCMP in Coquitlam did not lay charges in either case due to a lack of evidence.Marsden complained to the university harassment office in the fall of 1995, a month after she says they stopped dating. A panel held a five-day hearing. Marsden and several witnesses participated but Donnelly, following the advice of his lawyer, did not. The panel then recommended he be dismissed, a decision university president John Stubbs upheld.Donnelly also launched a complaint against Marsden in 1995 under the university’s harassment policy. But he says he dropped the complaint on his then-lawyer’s advice and by the time he re-activated it 13 months later, was told he had exceeded the six-month time limit.The panel’s report on Donnelly is not being released, although the hearing was open to the public, said SFU lawyer Anita Braha. The hearing is quasi-judicial; witnesses are sworn in and subject to rules of administrative tribunals. The university will not disclose who sat on the panel, except to say the three members — from staff, faculty and the student population — were appointed by the chair of the harassment office. There were two women and one man.The university introduced its harassment policy in 1988. Of the 130 complaints the harassment office received last year, 120 were resolved through mediation. Only five resulted in hearings, and only one —Donnelly’s— resulted in a dismissal, said Ken Mennell, SFU’s public relations director.Marsden is still a student at SFU and coaches at a Maple Ridge swim club. She was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

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