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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Corina Rochon has been working the front lines of the pandemic in the intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She is also an instructor in the nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley.
Pandemic the most challenging of Abbotsford nurse’s 16-year career

Corina Rochon works front lines at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Dario Lopez comes to the Cascades from Madrid, Spain where he played in very competitive junior leagues. (Dan Kinvig/UFV Athletics)
UFV Cascades sign Spanish basketball talent

High-scoring forward Dario Lopez joins team for 2021-22 season

Coho smolts. (Tanis Grower photo)
OPINION: A giant, invisible problem for Fraser salmon and how to fix it

‘Successful examples of salmon-friendly flood control can already be found throughout the Lower Mainland’

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in B.C.

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Most Read