An overwhelming majority of Canadians are upset to learn that Hockey Canada used millions of dollars in registration fees from players across the country to pay out sexual-assault settlements without disclosing it, according to a new national poll.
The poll, conducted for The Globe and Mail by Nanos Research, found that about 73 per cent of Canadians said they feel anger that Hockey Canada did not tell parents and players how a portion of their registration money was being used. A similar number of Canadians, 71 per cent, said they opposed such fees being put toward sexual-assault settlements.
“Both of those are really big numbers,” said Nik Nanos, chief data scientist for Nanos Research. “Many times on public opinion, a lot of things are nuanced. There’s no nuance; this is very cut and dried. Canadians are angry. They’re very disappointed and they don’t have confidence in Hockey Canada.”
A Globe and Mail investigation last month was the first to report that a little-known Hockey Canada account known as the National Equity Fund used registration fees from parents and players to pay out settlements on sexual-assault claims. The investigation detailed how the fund allowed Hockey Canada to settle allegations outside of court, without involving its insurer or exposing those cases to outside scrutiny.
The investigation found that the National Equity Fund had exceeded $15-million in recent years, although Hockey Canada was not disclosing to parents and players – from beginner Timbits Hockey up to senior leagues – how fees supposedly for insurance were actually used.
“What we’re learning today is absolutely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in B.C. last month in response to The Globe’s story. “I think right now it’s hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada.”
At federal hearings last week, Hockey Canada revealed it has paid out $7.6-million worth of sexual-assault claims from the fund since 1989 rather than using its insurance coverage. Conservative MP Kevin Waugh said MPs had no idea the fund existed, echoing concerns raised by other parties. “The National Equity Fund caught everyone off guard,” Mr. Waugh said at the hearings, questioning Hockey Canada’s lack of disclosure. Hockey Canada has since suspended using the fund to settle claims.
Nanos Research randomly polled 1,038 Canadians about the issue by phone and online between July 29 and Aug. 2. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Asked about their feelings toward Hockey Canada using registration fees for sexual-assault settlements, 73 per cent said they felt anger, 14 per cent were disinterested, 11 per cent were unsure, and 3 per cent said they were satisfied with it.
Split along gender lines, 81 per cent of women said they felt anger toward Hockey Canada’s use of fees for that purpose, compared with 65 per cent of men.
“Both men and women are angry, but the anger meter is even higher among women than men,” Mr. Nanos said.
The $7.6-million Hockey Canada said it has used from the National Equity Fund to settle sexual-assault claims without going through insurance does not include a $3.55-million lawsuit it settled this year for an undisclosed amount from a woman who alleges she was assaulted in London, Ont., hotel by eight players, including members of the 2018 Canadian World Junior Team. Hockey Canada was heavily criticized at federal hearings for not fully investigating the matter or holding the eight unnamed players accountable, even though its chief financial officer, Brian Cairo, told the proceedings, “We didn’t know all the details of the night, but we did believe harm was caused.”
Hockey Canada said on Thursday that a governance review its board of directors announced last month will be conducted by former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell. The review will look at the makeup and oversight of Hockey Canada’s board and senior management team. It will also examine the National Equity Fund, including whether its use to settle sexual-assault claims outside of the insurance process was appropriate, and whether Hockey Canada is sufficiently transparent with stakeholders about how the fund operates.
The scope of the review, including the terms of reference and the questions being asked, were agreed upon by Hockey Canada’s board and Justice Cromwell. Ariane Joazard-Bélizaire, a spokeswoman for Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge, said the government has no involvement in how the review is conducted.
Fewer than one in 10 Canadians polled supported using player registration fees to settle sexual-assault claims. According to the poll, 4 per cent of people support such a use, while 5 per cent are somewhat in support. That compares with the 71 per cent of respondents who were opposed, and 13 per cent somewhat opposed, while the remaining 7 per cent were unsure.
The sexual-assault allegations hanging over Hockey Canada have had an impact on how Canadians view the sport.
According to the poll, 47 per cent of people said the allegations have had a negative impact on their impression of hockey players, while 28 per cent said it had a somewhat negative impact, and 16 per cent said it had no impact.
In terms of playing hockey, 39 per cent of people said the allegations would make it less likely their children would play hockey, while 55 per cent said it would have no impact. About six in 10 Canadians – 58 per cent – said they have no confidence in Hockey Canada’s leadership, according to the poll.
“There’s not a lot of confidence that Hockey Canada can fix itself, just because of how they’ve handled this, so there’s going to need to be some significant outside help and action to try to fix this situation,” Mr. Nanos said.
“Canadians are very tuned into this story and they’re very angry. Not just about what happened, but they’re also angry over how it’s being handled by Hockey Canada.”
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