The University of Ottawa is scrapping its men’s varsity hockey program for the entire 2014-15 season after an independent investigator found some players engaged in “unacceptable” behaviour during a road trip to Thunder Bay that sparked an allegation of sexual assault.
The university also dismissed head coach Réal Paiement, noting he was not involved in the alleged incident but failed to report it to the university.
“We know enough to say that what happened there was unacceptable,” university president Allan Rock told reporters. “So we’re shutting down the program, the coach is being replaced, we’re putting new policies and processes in place and moving forward with a new program.”
Several hockey players who were not involved in the alleged assault are considering suing the university for defamation, said lawyer Lawrence Greenspon. “You've defamed them, you've put their hockey careers and their university careers on hold and they're suffering,” he said.
Mr. Rock said the university’s response – which comes after an internal review of its policies and procedures, including interviews relating to the alleged events – is separate from a police investigation.
“It’s not up to the university to determine who is innocent and who is not innocent,” he said. “We are not the police, nor are we a criminal court. We will let the police carry out their investigation in Thunder Bay and allow them to draw their own conclusions about the actual acts that were committed,” he said.
Police in Thunder Bay said their investigation recently concluded and an announcement on the case is expected within a few weeks.
“We’re currently reviewing the investigative file with the Crown,” said spokesman Chris Adams.
While the University of Ottawa released an evaluation of its sports policies and procedures, it is not making public the findings of independent investigator Steven Gaon, who conducted interviews, citing the police investigation as well as privacy considerations.
“Gaon’s findings reveal that while the events in Thunder Bay represented an isolated incident, the behaviour of some players was unacceptable, did not reflect the University’s values and failed to meet the University’s expectations of its student-athletes,” the university said in a press release.
In addition, the U of O is implementing new policies and behaviour guidelines for student athletes.
The university suspended its men’s hockey team after learning of the alleged assault from a third party on Feb. 24.
The incident, along with allegations of excessive drinking, is believed to have taken place during a team trip to Thunder Bay for two games against Lakehead University on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
The University of Ottawa’s website says Mr. Paiement has been head coach of the men’s team since 2011. He is a former head coach of the Canadian junior team and was named coach of the year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2002.
Mr. Rock, the U of O president, also said he realizes that some innocent players have been tarred by the scandal.
“I am very much aware that for those members of our hockey team who were not in Thunder Bay, and for those who were present but took no part in the alleged events, this has been an especially difficult time.” he said.
“The shadow cast by the allegations of misconduct has affected all members of the team, some unfairly.”
But the university, too, is caught in the middle and wait for the results of the police investigation, “hoping that when it concludes, that will add greater clarity.”
With a report from The Canadian Press