The Halifax police service has opened an investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of Canada’s 2003 world junior hockey team, marking the latest development in a series of revelations that have laid bare a troubling culture within the country’s national winter sport.
Hockey Canada said in a statement Friday that it contacted the Halifax Regional Police upon learning “disturbing details” of an alleged assault dating back nearly two decades to the world junior hockey championship co-hosted by that city. The police service confirmed that it received a report related to a historical sexual assault alleged to have occurred in Halifax in 2003, and said it will be conducting a thorough investigation.
Even before these latest allegations emerged, Hockey Canada was under a microscope for its handling of a lawsuit accusing eight Canadian Hockey League players of a sexual assault in London, Ont., in 2018. On Friday, the London Police Service announced it is reopening its investigation into the alleged incident, after initially concluding its probe without laying criminal charges.
The conduct of the national governing body for hockey is the subject of parliamentary hearings, which began in June and are slated to resume July 26. Already, the federal government has suspended funding to Hockey Canada, and several corporate sponsors have paused or withdrawn their support for the organization or specific events, such as the world juniors in Alberta next month.
On Friday, federal Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge described the 2003 allegations as “yet another horror story” that has left her angry and appalled. “It is clear that the culture of silence and trivialization of sexual violence is well-entrenched in the culture of this sport,” she said in a statement to The Globe and Mail. “Hockey Canada has a lot of work to do before they regain the trust of Canadians.”
Hockey Canada said staff heard a rumour two weeks ago about “something bad at the 2003 world juniors.” The organization hired a third-party investigator to look into the matter, the statement said, but the investigator was unable to immediately learn anything.
Then, on Thursday, TSN reporter Rick Westhead informed Hockey Canada that he had spoken with multiple people who provided “explicit descriptions” of an alleged sexual assault. The Hockey Canada statement said Conservative MP John Nater, who is a vice-chair of the federal Canadian Heritage committee examining Hockey Canada’s conduct, is in possession of the same or similar information.
“Hockey Canada will co-operate with and support the authorities in every way we can,” the statement said. “[We] urge anyone who may have relevant information about this alleged incident to contact Halifax police immediately.”
TSN reported Friday that, according to its sources, video footage showed roughly a half-dozen players taking turns having sex with a woman who was non-responsive and lying face up on a pool table. TSN did not view any such footage, but cited three sources who described it. The Globe has not independently verified the existence of, or details related to, the video footage in question.
Marc Habscheid, who was the head coach of Canada’s world junior team in 2003, said he learned of the allegations for the first time by reading Hockey Canada’s statement. The National Hockey League said Friday that it was made aware earlier in the day of the “horrific allegations” against members of the 2003 Canadian junior team. “The NHL will look into the allegations and will respond appropriately,” the league said.
In an e-mail, Mr. Nater said he was recently contacted by someone who said they have information regarding the alleged 2003 assault. He said he forwarded the information to the Halifax police service and encouraged the person to contact authorities directly. “The individual has requested to not be identified at this time,” Mr. Nater said.
Another member of the Heritage committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, said Hockey Canada representatives testifying next week will be asked about the Halifax allegations. “I am sure this will raise a number of questions at the hearings, both about what Hockey Canada did and did not know – and what it did and did not do – about an overall culture that needs reform,” he said.
Since the federal hearings began last month, Hockey Canada has announced measures to address what it describes as a “culture of toxic behaviour” within the sport, including no longer using a special multimillion-dollar fund to settle claims of alleged sexual assault. The organization has also reopened a third-party probe into the 2018 alleged sexual assault, which the woman said took place after a Hockey Canada fundraising gala.
In May, Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit related to the allegations. The players aren’t named in the civil suit and haven’t been publicly identified, but they include members of the 2018 Canadian world junior team.
In her statement of claim, the woman alleges that she engaged in sexual acts with a player in a hotel room after the gala. Seven other CHL members later entered the room and engaged in a range of sexual acts to which she did not consent, the claim alleges. Throughout, the woman says, she felt an imminent fear of physical harm.
The lawsuit, which sought more than $3.5-million in damages, was settled by Hockey Canada on behalf of the unnamed players on terms that were not disclosed. The allegations have not been tested in court.
Lawyers representing seven players say their clients were never given the opportunity to challenge the claim. Their clients deny wrongdoing and maintain that any sexual contact was consensual.
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