Federal Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge levelled harsh criticism at Hockey Canada Monday, saying it treats sexual assault like an insurance problem, rather than a systemic issue that should be addressed within the organization.
The minister’s comments were in response to a Globe and Mail investigation Monday that revealed Hockey Canada created a second multimillion-dollar fund, built by registration fees, to shield its various branches from sexual-assault claims, without disclosing to parents and players how their money was ultimately being used.
Revelations of the second fund, known as the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, follow a Globe investigation in July that showed Hockey Canada used a financial reserve called the National Equity Fund, also fed by registration fees, to settle a $3.55-million lawsuit filed by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by several members of the 2018 national junior team.
Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit in May, a few weeks after it was filed, without completing a full investigation into the matter, making a claim on its insurance, or requiring the players involved to co-operate with the probe. Hockey Canada CFO Brian Cairo said in July, “We didn’t know all the details of the night, but we did believe harm was caused.”
Hockey Canada and its branches, including provincial hockey organizations, used more than $7.1-million from the National Equity Fund to establish the Participants Legacy Trust Fund in 1999, though little was disclosed publicly about the reserve. The trust was earmarked “for matters including but not limited to sexual assault,” according to documents filed in Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.
“I think it shows a total lack of transparency,” Ms. St-Onge told reporters outside the House of Commons. “The other thing it shows is that sexual violence has been treated as an insurance problem at Hockey Canada instead of a systemic problem that needs to be addressed right at the root.”
Police in London, Ont., where the alleged assault occurred in 2018, have reopened their investigation, and lawyers representing the accused, who are not named in the lawsuit, deny the allegations. After the settlement came to light, TSN reported this summer of another alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2003 national junior team that is now under investigation by Halifax Police.
On Monday, Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire reiterated his call for an independent probe into how Hockey Canada manages cases of sexual assault.
“Two funds in the tens of millions of dollars dedicated to sexual-assault settlements, multiple assault cases identified, the more the scandals accumulate, the more they resemble each other. We need to get to the bottom of the organization’s handling of these matters once and for all,” Mr. Lemire said.
“Their opaque and dated management methods prove once again that a major cleanup within management and the board of directors of Hockey Canada is necessary in order to change the culture which operates there.”
NDP MP Peter Julian sent a letter to Ms. St-Onge on Monday reiterating his call for a full audit of Hockey Canada’s finances since 2016, telling the Minister of Sport it is her responsibility to ensure that government funds and registration fees from Canadians are used in an accountable and transparent manner.
“Hockey parents across the country deserve to know exactly how their registration fees are used,” Mr. Julian said. “The latest revelations show that Hockey Canada has not been transparent and accountable to the public and particularly to hockey parents.”
Facing questions from sponsors and government this summer about how the settlement was reached, Hockey Canada reassured both that none of their money was used to pay the claim. However, prior to July, Hockey Canada did not mention that it was using a fund built by registration fees to settle sexual-assault cases.
Hockey Canada later acknowledged at federal hearings in July that the National Equity Fund has been used to pay settlements on nine sexual-assault claims totalling $7.6-million since 1989. That figure did not include the claim settled this year.
The organization has said reserves such as the National Equity Fund are part of its approach to risk management. But MPs on a parliamentary committee probing the matter say Hockey Canada withheld details of the fund from parents and players who sign up for hockey, using registration fees to settle the sexual-assault claim rather than holding the players involved accountable or making an insurance claim.
The second reserve, the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, was set up to handle claims against Hockey Canada’s member branches from incidents occurring from 1986 to 1995, before Hockey Canada began purchasing insurance for sexual-assault claims and other liabilities. It covered an era when the sport was hit with numerous sexual-abuse cases, including those associated with disgraced coach Graham James.
The trust was set to be dissolved on May 15, 2020, which was listed in Hockey Canada documents as its intended Division Date. However, in late 2018 and early 2019, Hockey Canada and its members went to court to alter the terms of the trust – ensuring that it would be kept in place until 2039.
“The trustees believe that more claims will be brought after the Division Date as currently defined, and this is the primary reason to extend the duration of the trust,” Mr. Cairo said in an affidavit filed in January, 2019, in Alberta court.
“The original purpose of the trust continues to exist and will likely subsist beyond the Division Date,” Mr. Cairo said.
Asked what further claims Hockey Canada expects will emerge from the timeframe the trust was intended to address, Hockey Canada spokesman Jeremy Knight said the affidavit was not pointing to a specific case. “Mr. Cairo’s statement was not based on knowledge of a specific claim or incident, or any specific anticipated claims or incidents,” Mr. Knight said.
He said the trust has not been used but remains available for its stated purposes.
The parliamentary committee resumes on Tuesday with testimony from Hockey Canada’s past board chair, Michael Brind’Amour, who stepped down in August, and interim chair, Andrea Skinner, who replaced him.
Ms. St-Onge issued another call Monday for Hockey Canada’s executives to step down in light of the alleged sexual assault, which MPs have accused the organization of trying to cover up. “We need new leadership to implement the real change that needs to happen at Hockey Canada,” Ms. St-Onge said.
She added that when the results of various investigations in Ottawa are complete – including the findings from the parliamentary committee and a smaller audit of Hockey Canada that was announced this year – the government may take action against the organization.
“When we have the results of the different investigations that are happening, it’s going to give us probably new tools to act,” Ms. St-Onge said. “But I think anything that should happen from now on with Hockey Canada needs to be with new leadership. I don’t see how they can rebuild trust having the same people that didn’t do enough in the past decades.”