Some of Hockey Canada’s highest-profile sponsors, and two of the country’s largest provincial hockey associations, are pulling their support for the sport’s governing body as pressure mounts over how it handled an alleged sexual assault involving Team Canada players.
Tim Hortons and Bank of Nova Scotia both said Wednesday that their decision to suspend sponsorship of Hockey Canada this summer would be extended for all men’s hockey for the 2022-23 season. Late on Wednesday night, Telus Corp. also confirmed it was pulling support.
The decision means the national coffee chain, one of the country’s biggest banks and the telecom company will have no sponsorship presence at the World Junior championship tournament, which is being held this winter in Halifax.
“We’ve communicated to Hockey Canada on many occasions that the organization needs to take strong and definitive action before it can regain the faith and trust of Canadians,” Michael Oliveira, Tim Hortons director of communications, wrote in a statement. “We’re deeply disappointed in the lack of progress that Hockey Canada has made to date.”
Scotiabank echoed that sentiment, saying concerns it raised this summer have not been addressed.
“From Hockey Canada, we expect a tangible commitment to transparency with Canadians, strong leadership, accountability with their stakeholders and the hockey community, and improved safety both on and off the ice,” Scotiabank spokesperson Doug Johnson said in a statement. “Ultimately our position hasn’t wavered: the time for change is long overdue.”
Telus also called for “systemic change” to make the sport safer.
“We are deeply disheartened by the lack of action and commitment from Hockey Canada to drive necessary cultural change,” Telus spokesperson Richard Gilhooley wrote in a statement.
Those announcements followed a decision by Hockey Quebec to immediately withhold player registration fees from Hockey Canada, while the Ontario Hockey Federation began laying the groundwork for a similar move.
At federal hearings in Ottawa this week, MPs criticized Hockey Canada for failing to properly investigate allegations made by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 national junior team after a Hockey Canada fundraiser, and for trying to sweep the matter under the rug.
After those hearings, Hockey Quebec’s board of directors passed a resolution saying it does not believe the national federation will act effectively to fix problems that have come to light, and will withhold a $3 fee that Hockey Canada collects from each player for general registration costs. Taking a different approach, the Ontario Hockey Federation informed Hockey Canada it does not want those fees collected this year, and is awaiting a confirmation they will be halted.
Hockey Quebec said it made the decision because of concerns over Hockey Canada’s recent conduct and its handling of the investigation into the alleged sexual assault in 2018, including revelations that player registration fees were used settle a $3.55-million lawsuit associated with the incident, for an undisclosed sum.
In June, under pressure from government and sponsors concerned their funds might be tied to an alleged sexual assault, Hockey Canada assured both that no federal or corporate money was used to settle the claim. However, it did not disclose that the money for the settlement came from player fees. A Globe and Mail investigation later revealed in July that Hockey Canada used an internal reserve known as the National Equity Fund, built by registration fees gathered from parents and players, to settle the lawsuit.
On Monday, a Globe investigation revealed Hockey Canada and its branches had set up another fund, known as the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, to shield against sexual assault claims, which was also fed by player registration fees.
“Following the latest information uncovered in recent days and months concerning the Hockey Canada situation, Hockey Quebec’s Board of Directors is very concerned,” the resolution from Hockey Quebec said. “We do not have confidence in the ability of the Federation to act effectively to change the culture of hockey under its current structure.”
Phillip McKee, executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation, said his organization informed Hockey Canada in July that it wanted that portion of its registration fees frozen, but Hockey Canada board chair Michael Brind’Amour never took the request to the board, despite telling OHF he would. Mr. Brind’Amour resigned in August amid the fallout from the controversy.
Mr. McKee said in an e-mail to The Globe that the Ontario federation is again requesting that its fees not go to Hockey Canada.
“With regards to Hockey Quebec’s decision to withhold funding, OHF has already requested via Hockey Canada’s former Chair of the Board, Michael Brind’Amour, (on July 29, 2022) that Hockey Canada not collect the $3.00 Participant Assessment Fee for the 2022-2023 season, which he confirmed he would take to the Board of Directors,” the statement said.
“It is our understanding now that this request was never directed to the Board before his departure. Based on this information, the OHF has once again reaffirmed our formal request of Hockey Canada to not collect the $3.00 Participant Assessment Fee for the 2022-2023 season.”
Quebec’s decision to halt the payments, and OHF’s request to have the fees frozen, are symbolic moves, sending a message from both organizations about their frustration with Hockey Canada. The $3 general-registration fee represents about $900,000 worth of revenue for Hockey Canada, including roughly $640,000 from the Ontario Hockey Federation, and $261,000 from Quebec, based on recent player numbers.
“The OHF is monitoring the situation at Hockey Canada as we strive to create effective and meaningful change,” Mr. McKee said.
There are 13 provincial and territorial hockey federations in Canada. Ontario is divided into three groups, the Ontario Hockey Federation, Hockey Eastern Ontario and Hockey Northwestern Ontario, while Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories are combined as Hockey North.
Theresa Bailey, the founder of Canadian Hockey Moms, an advocacy group with more than 40,000 members, said she hopes other provincial hockey organizations follow suit.
“I’m not sure what the alternative is,” Ms. Bailey said. “I don’t know how you get through to them that [this situation] is not okay. It feels like they think they are invincible.”
Tim Hortons, which is owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International, is one of a number of sponsors that suspended support for Hockey Canada in June in the early days of the controversy. Others include Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Tire, Telus and Esso. Mr. Oliveira said Tim Hortons will continue to provide funding for youth hockey programs, and Canada’s women’s and para hockey teams.
The Globe reached out to other Hockey Canada sponsors on Wednesday, including Nike, Telus, Bauer Hockey, Canadian Tire and Recipe Unlimited. The companies did not immediately respond to requests to provide updates on the status of their sponsorships. Esso parent company Imperial Oil has not yet made a decision on whether it will support the World Junior Championships, spokesperson Keri Scobie said.
“We continue to find this matter deeply concerning and have regularly communicated our expectations to Hockey Canada that concrete steps must be taken to address safety issues and ensure swift culture change,” Ms. Scobie said.
Facing criticism from federal MPs and the public, Hockey Canada issued an action plan this summer, stating that it would take several steps to address its handling of sexual assault claims, and undertake a review of its governance. However, Hockey Quebec said it doesn’t support the plan.
“We do not adhere to the action plan as a whole,” the Hockey Quebec resolution said, noting that it was formulated “internally and in collaboration with the firm Navigator,” a crisis communications company hired by Hockey Canada this summer.
Hockey Quebec said the action plan was made without contributions from experts in “education, awareness and prevention of sexual violence, abuse, bullying and discrimination” and that such people should have been consulted. “We believe that an external advisory committee, formed with respect and integrity by experts or specialists … should have been put in place this summer to support Hockey Canada in its approach.”
The association is asking Hockey Canada to review its decision-making process and appoint a special advisory committee.
Hockey Canada told a parliamentary committee in June that it settled the claim without fully investigating the matter or requiring players to co-operate with the probe. Hockey Canada CFO Brian Cairo told federal hearings in July that the organization believes harm was caused, even though it couldn’t determine the facts of the case, and no players were held accountable.
MPs have criticized the organization for trying to cover up the situation, which only came to light when TSN obtained court records of the settlement in May. Lawyers representing the players, who are not named in court documents, deny the allegations. Police in London, where the alleged incident took place, have reopened their investigation.
Hockey parents across the country have expressed outrage that their player fees went toward sexual assault settlements, and that they were not told how the money was being used.
Players pay $23.80 to Hockey Canada when they sign up to play, which includes the $3 general registration fee. Those registration fees also include $13.65 paid into the National Equity Fund under the category of insurance, which the organization has since acknowledged contains an amount set aside for a reserve to pay sexual assault and other settlements that are not claimed on its insurance.
In addition to refusing to submit the $3 general registration fee to the national federation, Hockey Quebec said it is working to identify new options to insure its players, outside of Hockey Canada’s insurance framework. The association said it will request a financial report from Hockey Canada “on the use of all funds that Hockey Quebec will have transferred to Hockey Canada.”
Hockey Canada did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the steps taken by Hockey Quebec and the Ontario Hockey Federation, or on the Tim Hortons announcement. Hockey Canada also did not respond to a request for comment on any other changes to other sponsors’ deals with the organization.
After contentious parliamentary committee hearings on Tuesday, where several MPs accused Hockey Canada of failing to answer questions and giving conflicting answers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wasn’t surprised to see provincial associations pull support.
“It’s no surprise that provincial organizations are questioning whether or not they want to continue supporting an organization that doesn’t understand how serious the situation [is],” Mr. Trudeau said. “I really hope they understand, because hockey is a really important sport to a lot of Canadians and a lot of kids, and right now this mess is doing no favours to kids across the country.”
He added, “It boggles the mind that Hockey Canada is continuing to dig in its heels.”
Conservative MP John Nater, a member of the parliamentary committee investigating Hockey Canada, said he was troubled by Hockey Canada’s approach to the hearings Tuesday, where Mr. Brind’Amour and interim board chair Andrea Skinner put their support behind the current executives.
“What we have seen over the past few months is a complete unwillingness to be transparent, and a complete unwillingness to make the changes necessary so Canadians have trust in and faith in the leadership,” Mr. Nater told reporters in Ottawa.
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, another member of the committee, said the organization has enough money on its balance sheet that it won’t be greatly affected by losing some registration fees. He said it is also up to big corporate sponsors to ask for change from Hockey Canada.
“They can weather the storm for years,” he said of Hockey Canada’s finances. “They’re pushing back against you guys, the media, because of what you said about them.”
Hockey Canada board minutes made public at committee hearings Tuesday showed the organization believed it was being unfairly criticized by the public, the government, and the media. After facing criticism for using registration fees to settle a series of sexual assault claims – without disclosing to parents and players – the board decided it wanted to “shift the narrative” with Canadians, so that such payments are viewed “in a positive manner, not in a negative manner.”
Notes from the board meetings indicate that, after hiring Navigator, Hockey Canada wanted to “push back hard,” and change the perspective of Canadians by repeating its talking points in public. “Repetition is required to state the narrative,” the board minutes said.
During the hearings, MPs asked why Hockey Canada hadn’t previously disclosed the second fund for sexual assault detailed in The Globe, and criticized board members and executives for withholding information about its operations.
Documents filed in Alberta court show that in 1999, Hockey Canada transferred $7.1-million from the National Equity Fund to create the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, “for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse.” The trust is intended to shield its branches, including provincial hockey associations, from sexual assault claims related to incidents between 1986-1995, before Hockey Canada began purchasing insurance for sexual assault claims and other liabilities.
But Hockey Canada has since sought to muddy the waters. The organization sent a memo to partners and sponsors Monday, which was obtained by The Globe, telling them the fund is being portrayed inaccurately in the media “as an additional Hockey Canada asset” and noted the fund had not been used to settle a claim. However, The Globe’s article clearly stated the trust was “not listed on Hockey Canada’s balance sheet because it is not considered an asset,” since the money it holds is allocated to the branch organizations. The article also stated the trust “has not been used, but remains available for its stated purpose,” based on information provided by Hockey Canada to The Globe.
Hockey Canada’s memo states that “the trust acts as a backstop to the National Equity Fund,” confirming The Globe’s reporting.
At the hearings Tuesday, Ms. Skinner said several times that details of the trust had been misconstrued, but didn’t elaborate when MPs asked how. Ms. Skinner then went on to confirm the details of The Globe’s investigation: that the Participants Legacy Trust Fund was created using $7.1-million from the National Equity Fund; that it was not considered an asset on Hockey Canada’s books; that it had not been used in any claims to date but was kept available for its stated purpose; and that the trust is intended to protect Hockey Canada’s branch organizations from sexual assault settlements, which can arise many years after the alleged incident.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a lawyer, told the hearing that he believed Hockey Canada was misleading the public.
Mr. Housefather quoted from an affidavit filed in Alberta court by Mr. Cairo in 2019, which stated the Participants Legacy Trust Fund was established “for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse.” Mr. Housefather told the hearing, “It would seem to me, then, that sexual abuse and sexual assault were claims that could be settled under this fund.”
Reactions to Hockey Canada’s response to alleged sexual assault
“We’ve communicated to Hockey Canada on many occasions that the organization needs to take strong and definitive action before it can regain the faith and trust of Canadians. We’re deeply disappointed in the lack of progress that Hockey Canada has made to date.”
– Michael Oliveira, Tim Hortons director of communications
“I don’t know how you get through to them that [this situation] is not okay. It feels like they think they are invincible.”
– Theresa Bailey, founder of Canadian Hockey Moms, an advocacy group with more than 40,000 members
“It’s no surprise that provincial organizations are questioning whether or not they want to continue supporting an organization that doesn’t understand how serious the situation [is that] it has contributed to causing. I really hope they understand, because hockey is a really important sport to a lot of Canadians and a lot of kids, and right now this mess is doing no favours to kids across the country.”
– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
“They’re pretty arrogant right now. They’re pushing back against you guys, the media, because of what you said about them … Hockey Canada needs to make changes, including at the CEO level.”
– Conservative MP Kevin Waugh
“I think the decision that Hockey Quebec took shows that reforms are being engaged. It also sends the message to the leaders at the organization that are holding on to their jobs that Hockey Canada doesn’t belong to them. It also belongs to their members and they want change. They want change of culture and they want to fight against sexual violence.”
– Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge
“What we have seen over the past few months is a complete unwillingness to be transparent, and a complete unwillingness to make the changes necessary so Canadians have trust and faith in the leadership.”
– Conservative MP John Nater
“Following the latest information uncovered in recent days and months concerning the Hockey Canada situation, Hockey Quebec’s Board of Directors is very concerned … We do not have confidence in the ability of the Federation to act effectively to change the culture of hockey under its current structure.”
– Resolution by Hockey Quebec Board of Directors
“The OHF is monitoring the situation at Hockey Canada, as we strive to create effective and meaningful change.”
– Phillip McKee, executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation