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Witnesses Scott Smith, Hockey Canada president and chief operating officer, middle right, and Hockey Canada chief financial officer Brian Cairo, middle left, join fellow witnesses as they appear at the standing committee on Canadian Heritage, in Ottawa, on July 27.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Just before revelations that Hockey Canada paid out $8.9-million since 1989 to settle 21 cases of alleged sexual assault, the sports body committed to mandatory sexual consent training for all of its players, coaches and staff in an action plan set out earlier this week.

The two-hour sessions began in mid-July, focusing on masculinity, coercion, consent, bystander intervention and healthy relationships. But while experts in gender-based violence said education is a good first step, many stressed there are no quick fixes for a culture of misogyny and degradation still entrenched in this sport and others.

“When you’re getting a lifetime of messages, having them undone in two hours is probably not going to be the situation. It’s step one,” said Sara Casselman, executive director of the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, which is facilitating Hockey Canada’s educational programming alongside Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse.

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Some 380 athletes and hundreds of support staff and coaches across all of Hockey Canada’s national teams will participate in the mandatory training this summer, Spencer Sharkey, the sports body’s manager of communications, told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail, noting that the youngest athletes in Hockey Canada’s summer programming are 15 years old.

For staff and coaches, education will centre on addressing harmful behaviour among athletes, handling disclosures of gender-based violence as well as maintaining “sensitivity to victims of alleged abuse,” according to a document released earlier this week by Hockey Canada subtitled “Shatter the Code of Silence and Eliminate Toxic Behaviour In and Around Canada’s Game.”

“We’re interested in how we can start to fix this culture,” said Ms. Casselman, whose organization focuses on survivors but also works to prevent gender-based violence. It is the first time her staff has worked with Hockey Canada, although they’ve hosted similar annual programming for the Ontario Hockey League.

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Earlier this month, her trainers began running virtual seminars with male players and staff at Hockey Canada, as facilitators at the Calgary centre led the same training in person. Pairs of young, co-ed trainers lead the interactive sessions. There are conversations about the “continuum of harm” that runs from sexist locker room banter to non-consensual sharing of sexual partners’ nude photos with other players to harassment and assault.

The consent training follows a Planned Parenthood model dubbed “FRIES,” which explains that consent must be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific.

“Reversible” means that partners can change their minds at any time. “Informed” includes wearing a condom if this was agreed to; taking it off without a partner’s knowledge (known as “stealthing”) means the sex is no longer informed. “Enthusiastic” means doing things that partners really want to do, not things they’ve been pressed to do. (Ms. Casselman said that in past discussions, male athletes have shown much confusion on this point – the difference between a partner’s voluntary consent, and acquiescence after being worn down by repeated asks.) “Specific” means that when partners consent to one act, they don’t automatically agree to another.

It remains unclear how successful such training is in changing behaviour in the long run. From past sessions, Ms. Casselman’s staff have witnessed a shift in young men’s knowledge and understanding. But they’ve not had sufficient resources to evaluate the program’s effectiveness long-term.

Ms. Casselman and other experts said that beyond a one-off educational session, sports bodies need to reinforce the message with ongoing training, strong policies, zero tolerance for harmful behaviour and consistent examples set by leaders.

Jake Stika, Vancouver co-founder and executive director of Next Gen Men, a non-profit organization that focuses on masculinity, has worked with other sports organizations doing damage control after similar crises.

“We’ve seen them have the target on their back and look for a performative way out, to calm it all down. We haven’t seen the follow-through,” Mr. Stika said. “You’re not going to undo this culture in a two-hour training.”

If the hope is genuinely to shift toxic masculinity in hockey and other sports, more focus needs to fall on coaches, he said. “It’s the coaches who, year over year, work with hundreds of athletes and maintain the culture of those environments.”

The clandestine, chauvinistic banter of hockey dressing rooms also needs a hard look, according to Shannon Moore, assistant professor in education at the University of Manitoba.

Last year, Prof. Moore and her colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 21 male hockey players ages 20 to 57; all had variously played from the Junior A level up to the NHL.

The athletes described disturbing moments from their years in an insular culture, where young men were put on a pedestal. Players spoke about teammates who received nude photographs from sexual partners in confidence, only to pass them around the dressing room as a “team-building exercise.” They recalled coaches saying things like, “Hit it like you’d hit your girlfriend,” on the ice. A teammate was given a coat hanger at a party after his girlfriend had an abortion.

Prof. Moore described a disconnect between some of the players’ school lessons about consent – about treating the people as full human beings – and the realities within hockey culture. Some players said coaches would recommend they leave their phones at home while partying, encouraging a “don’t get caught” mentality.

She said the players were troubled by what they had witnessed and failed to speak out against, questioning the absence of adults in it all.

“As they left the game of hockey and came to be part of loving relationships later in life, they looked back and wondered, ‘What did I do?’” Prof. Moore said. “They were starting to feel irreconcilable moments in their lives about who hockey expected them to be and what they knew it was to be a good person.”

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