Some athletes on Ryerson’s rowing team said they felt they were pressured into supporting the former mayoral candidate linked to Toronto’s computer leasing scandal.
Last fall, when Tom Jakobek was running for mayor, rowing coach Dominic Kahn allegedly told his athletes:
“If you don’t support Tom Jakobek, you don’t support [the rowing] club.” “He didn’t say ‘vote,’ he said we needed to go support,” said a former rower who wishes not to be named for fear she will be sued.
Two weeks ago, Kahn’s lawyers served Rachel Zylka, a fourth-year Early Childhood Education student and former rower, a slander notice that suggests she be expelled from school for allegedly engineering a “smear campaign” against the coach.
Several other former rowers also came forward, on condition of anonymity, saying that participation in Jakobek’s campaign was “mandatory,” though some were ideologically and morally opposed to supporting him.
Following a practice athletes were driven across the city to join Jakobek in a charity walk. Each student was given a “Vote Tom Jakobek” T-shirt to wear. “We were more or less the entourage,” said former Ryerson rower Jordan Lazaruk.
“I wasn’t a big fan of that.”
On a seperate occassion, some also accompanied Kahn to put up Jakobek posters up around Toronto. However, Kahn said, that at no time, did he put inappropriate pressure on rowers to campaign for Jakobek.
“No one forced anyone to do anything and no matter what someone says, it’s a year later…If people were intimidated, that’s them. I didn’t do anything,” he said.
One rower who came forward said she decided to make her concerns known now because she no longer wants to be part of the team.
“It wasn’t said last year because people were afraid…I made my decision [to speak up] just because I knew I would never be going back to rowing at Ryerson again, ever.”
Athletics director Dave Dubois said that while it’s OK for a coach to offer his athletes the option to participate in a political cause or campaign, it is unacceptable for a coach to force his players to do so.
“That’s an abuse of power,” he said. Hayley Wagg, a fourth-year student and a member of the rowing team, supported the coach and said she didn’t feel pressured to support Jakobek. “[Kahn] just wanted us to get involved with the political process,” she said.
Kahn said there is no connection between the Bayside Rowing Club (the much praised rowing club where the Ryerson team rows) and Jakobek. Kahn said he felt it’s important to have good relationships with city councillors.
Jakobek asked for support and Kahn said he and his team would help. “When it comes to community groups within the city, all politicians have a big say over the land…If a politician says, get off the land,’ we have to.” Kahn said.
The Bayside Rowing Club, located on Unwin Avenue in eastern Toronto, launches its boats from city-owned property. The club leases the land for $1 a year from the city, according to team captain Andy Guiry. It is facing eviction from burgeoning industry in the area, particularly from Strada Aggregates, a sand and gravel company now located just down the street.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail in September, Kahn said he hoped the rowing club would get a new home on a piece of city-owned land on Cherry Street. Guiry said that the city helps the club by offering grants and summer jobs.
He said the club also helped campaign with Dennis Mills, the former M.P. who negotiated Bayside’s use of the land. Top civil rights lawyer Paul D. Copeland said that pressuring students to support a political candidate isn’t a violation of civil rights, but he sees it as an unethical practice.
“It’s improper and inappropriate for a professor or a coach to do that,” he said. “I don’t know why anybody would support Tom Jakobek, he’s such an apparent scumbag.”
The computer-leasing scandal, is being investigated at the city’s MFP inquiry. Investigators are looking at how the City of Toronto went from paying $43 million to nearly double that amount on computer equipment.
Jakobek has also been accused of accepting a bribe from Dash Domi, a former MFP salesman and brother of Toronto Maple Leaf tough guy Tie Domi. The accusation has yet to be proven.