Hockey Canada is facing intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual-assault allegations involving junior players after one of its events.
In May, TSN reported that the national governing body for ice hockey quietly reached a settlement with a woman alleged to have been gang raped by eight Canadian Hockey League players after a gala in June, 2018. Now the federal government has cut off federal funding until more details of their investigation are provided to a parliamentary committee and its highest-profile sponsors are backing out.
Here’s a breakdown of everything we know about the story so far.
- During the latest parliamentary hearings in Ottawa on Tuesday, former Hockey Canada chief executive officer Bob Nicholson said the organization has not gone far enough in the past to address problems related to sexual assault, and that he regretted that there was not more focus on “the culture of silence that appears to persist to this day” within the game.
- Hockey Canada has not made their audited financial statements public, so The Globe and Mail took a look into the organization’s financial statements and assets dating back to 2004. The documents were published online for public perusal
- Hockey Canada’s President and CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors have stepped down following calls for a leadership overhaul in the organization. This comes after interim chair Andrea Skinner also announced her resignation.
- Bauer, Nike, Tim Hortons, Scotiabank, Telus, Canadian Tire join the list of sponsors that have pulled their support for Hockey Canada.
The lawsuit against Hockey Canada
In April, a woman filed a $3.55-million lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the CHL and the eight CHL players, who included members of Canada’s under-20 men’s junior hockey team. The plaintiff, identified as E.M. in court records, said she was repeatedly assaulted while intoxicated in a London, Ont., hotel room following a 2018 Gala and Golf event, the largest annual fundraiser for the Hockey Canada Foundation that also honoured the gold medal-winning junior team.
The woman, who is now 24, also stated that Hockey Canada was made aware of the alleged assaults and failed to investigate or sanction the players involved.
None of the players were named. The parties settled the case, TSN reported.
Members of Canada’s 2003 men’s world junior hockey championship team are also being investigated for a group sexual assault in Halifax. Three players from the team have denied knowledge of the incident thus far.
Hockey Canada’s response
Hockey Canada, which controls the majority of organized ice hockey in Canada, said in a statement that as soon as the organization became aware of the allegations in 2018, it contacted local police and retained a law firm to conduct an independent internal investigation.
Hockey Canada had also said it ordered a third-party investigation into what happened but the organization didn’t mandate that players who might have been involved co-operate with investigators.
The National Hockey League also announced in July that it is conducting its own investigation into what transpired as a number of those players may be in the NHL.
In an open letter to Canadians published on July 14, Hockey Canada said it will reopen the third-party investigation into the 2018 sexual assault allegations. The organization said participation in the investigation by the players in question will now be mandatory, adding anyone who declines will be banned from all of the federation’s activities and programs effective immediately. “We know we have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 national junior team or to end the culture of toxic behaviour within our game,” Hockey Canada wrote in its letter. “For that we unreservedly apologize.
On July 25, Hockey Canada released a plan that it said “marks an important step forward” in reforming the game. The 19-page action plan outlines a series of measures intended to prevent future abuses. The organization has also promised sexual consent training for its players, but what does that entail?
In August, Hockey Canada appointed lawyer Andrea Skinner to serve as its interim chair amid public pressure for a leadership overhaul of the organization. She replaces former chair Michael Brind’Amour who resigned in early August.
On Oct. 8, Ms. Skinner announced her resignation. On Oct. 11, Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors have also stepped down. The resignations follow multiple calls from the federal government and from major sponsors for change at the top of the organization.
A interim management team will be installed until the new board names a new CEO to run Hockey Canada.
The federal government’s response
Canada’s Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge ordered a forensic audit in June to ensure that Hockey Canada did not use any public funds to pay the out-of-court settlement. A motion also passed in Canada’s House of Commons summoning Hockey Canada to Canadian Heritage’s standing committee “to shed light on its involvement in a case of alleged sexual assaults committed in 2018.”
On June 22, the Canadian government froze Hockey Canada’s federal funding, saying it would restore funding if the organization signs on to the newly formed Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which was recently created to deal with multiple complaints of abuse and maltreatment in sport.
Ms. St-Onge said that Hockey Canada must also disclose a set of recommendations for change from the law firm Henein Hutchison, which was retained by Hockey Canada to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations, and that it must share the organization’s plan to implement change.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. St-Onge said Hockey Canada’s handling of the allegations reveals a culture problem within the organization that needs to change. She said the story revealed so far is “extremely horrific and disturbing” and it’s clear that Hockey Canada’s investigative process was inadequate.
Meanwhile, the federal committee investigating Hockey Canada’s handling of the sexual-assault lawsuit says it will exercise its “extraordinary privilege” to compel witnesses and obtain information. The Canadian Heritage committee’s second round of public hearings resumed on July 26, with more testimony from Hockey Canada, federal officials and others.
Documents also show that the federal government had concerns about Hockey Canada even before this year’s sexual-assault settlement controversy. The organization’s board of directors received poor grades from Sport Canada in an internal 2021 governance review. The report card also gave Hockey Canada failing grades for strategic planning.
Government assistance accounted for 6 per cent of Hockey Canada’s revenue last year, according to the organization’s 2020-21 annual report. Forty-three per cent of its revenue – amounting to about $65-million in 2019-20 – came from business development and partnerships.
The Globe investigates
A Globe and Mail investigation has found that Hockey Canada keeps a special multimillion-dollar fund, which is fed by the registration fees of players across the country, that it uses to pay out settlements in cases of alleged sexual assault without its insurance company, and with minimal outside scrutiny. This reserve fund has exceeded $15-million in recent years.
Grant Robertson reports:
The money is used at Hockey Canada’s discretion and can be deployed to write cheques to cover out-of-court settlements for a variety of claims, including allegations of sexual assault, that are deemed uninsurable or are settled without the participation of its insurer.
Hockey Canada also maintains a health fund where registration fees intended for emergency medical and dental coverage have been put toward protecting the organization from liability in lawsuits, according to documents obtained in a Globe and Mail investigation.
A Globe investigation also found that Hockey Canada has a second multimillion-dollar fund for similar purposes. Known as the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, the reserve was created by the organization and its members with more than $7.1-million from the National Equity Fund. The money was earmarked “for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse,” according to Hockey Canada documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.
In addition, according to text messages that were shown to The Globe and Mail by lawyers for seven unnamed members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team, a player asked the woman whether she had gone to the police in a text message exchange a day after the alleged encounter.
The lawyers also showed The Globe and Mail two video clips recorded that night that they say show the sexual contact was consensual and that the complainant was not fearful, intimidated or intoxicated, as she claimed. The lawyers declined to say which player sent the messages, and would not reveal which individual players they represent, adding that the information will be addressed in continuing investigations.
The woman’s lawyer declined to comment, citing the continuing investigations. In her statement of claim, filed in April, 2022, the woman alleged that she was directed to state that she was sober while being video recorded.
The response to the Globe’s investigation
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Hockey Canada in response to the Globe and Mail investigation on July 19: “I think right now it’s hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada,” he said. On Thursday, he also told reporters at an event in Elmsdale, N.S. that the organization needs a ‘real reckoning’.
On July 20, Hockey Canada announced its suspending the use of the special multimillion-dollar fund. “Effective immediately, the National Equity Fund will no longer be used to settle sexual assault claims,” Hockey Canada said in a statement.
“Hockey Canada recognizes we have significant work to do to rebuild trust with Canadians. We know we need to hold ourselves accountable,” the statement said. The organization has announced a full governance review that will include the National Equity Fund.
The woman who filed a lawsuit against Hockey Canada over the alleged group sexual assault in 2018 also broke her silence, saying that she has felt “vulnerable and exposed” since news of her allegations became public two months ago. “This is something I never wanted to draw attention to,” she said in a brief interview with The Globe and Mail. “I simply wanted consequences for actions and some accountability.”
Meanwhile, police in London, Ont., have reopened its criminal investigation following the 2018 Hockey Canada event. London Police Chief Steve Williams said he asked a team of officers to re-examine their initial investigation.
The parliamentary hearings
On June 20, members of the Hockey Canada executive appeared before a House of Commons committee where questions were asked about the alleged incident in 2018 and whether federal funds were used to settle the lawsuit. The hearings resumed on Tuesday, July 26 with many revelations.
Federal officials testified that Sports Canada knew in 2018 about sexual-assault allegations involving members of that year’s Canadian world junior team but didn’t follow up with Hockey Canada about the complaint for four years. The hearings also revealed that Ottawa knew of the existence of Hockey Canada’s National Equity Fund, but had no idea that some of the money was used to settle alleged sexual-assault claims outside of the court system.
On July 27, Hockey Canada told federal hearings that it has paid $8.9-million since 1989 to settle 21 cases of alleged sexual assault, with the bulk of that money coming from the National Equity Fund – built through registration fees that wasn’t disclosed to parents and players. Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith also said that he will not resign despite calls for a leadership overhaul within the organization.
During the latest federal hearing on October 4, MPs heard that Hockey Canada’s board met in recent months and decided it needed to shift the message with the Canadian public – put a more positive spin on the National Equity Fund. “It was encouraged to get the message into the public, get ahead of communication and shift the narrative,” Conservative MP John Nater said at the hearings, reading from Hockey Canada’s board minutes, which Hockey Canada was ordered to turn over to the federal probe.
How sponsors have responded
The organization’s response to the sexual-assault allegations has led major sponsors – among them Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, Telus and Esso – to announce in June that they would suspend support for Hockey Canada, including at this year’s World Junior Championship. Bell Media sports networks TSN and RDS, however, have held back from joining the growing exodus of Hockey Canada promotional partners.
Hockey Canada recently approached some of its largest sponsors to gauge whether ousting some top executives and board members would be enough to win back their support – and sponsorship dollars. Representatives contacted certain sponsors to inquire about measures the organization could take in order to restore their support, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the conversations. The organization conceded that the sexual-assault controversy affected the World Junior Championship attendance in Edmonton as many high-profile brands were visibly absent.
On Oct. 5, Tim Hortons and Bank of Nova Scotia said that their decision to suspend sponsorship of Hockey Canada this summer would be extended for all men’s hockey for the 2022-23 season. Telus Corp. also confirmed it was pulling support. The decision means the companies will have no sponsorship presence at the World Junior championship tournament, which is being held this winter in Halifax. Canadian Tire Corp. also announced it is permanently ending its Hockey Canada sponsorship.
“In our view, Hockey Canada continues to resist meaningful change and we can no longer confidently move forward together,” Jane Shaw, Canadian Tire’s senior vice-president of communications, wrote in a statement on Thursday.
Here’s a list of all the Hockey Canada sponsors pulling their support.
Meanwhile, 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. 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.
Opinion: The important moral questions
Cathal Kelly writes that “we need to blow up Hockey Canada, but not just because of a single scandal.” He also says that mass resignations can’t be far off after the latest Hockey Canada revelations and that the organization’s latest PR flurry is just a futile attempt to dodge responsibility.
Meanwhile, Gary Mason writes that Hockey Canada sponsors face a moral question: “If you were a corporate sponsor of this organization, would you want to continue that partnership?” Hockey Canada has a long list of sponsors that have been an integral part of their funding base, including Tim Horton’s, Bauer, Tempur Sealy, Esso, TSN, Chevrolet and Lordco, among others.
Rona Ambrose, former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, writes that Hockey Canada is “secretive and unaccountable” – it’s time for new leadership.
Robyn Urback questions the reality of hockey culture in Canada and the role that Hockey Canada plays in solidifying that culture:
These specific allegations may have remained largely unknown and unreported until recently, but the toxic locker-room culture – an incubator for abusive behaviour and misogyny – was there for all who wanted to look. The sport is relatively homogeneous (at least, compared with other organized sports) and participation demands a certain affluence (again, compared with other sports). Hockey towns also tend to function off an understanding that the sun shines out the backsides of top players, which can immunize them from any rumours, stories and allegations. Only now it’s fair to wonder to what extent Hockey Canada has played a role in ensuring those rumours so rarely materialize into something more.
A timeline of events
- April 2022: A woman files a $3.55-million lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the CHL and eight CHL players.
- May 3: Hockey Canada says this is the date it learned of the woman’s lawsuit, and settled soon after.
- May 24: Canada’s Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge receives a call from former Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney, telling her that a settlement had been reached in a sexual assault case involving Team Canada players and that TSN would be reporting on it in a matter of days.
- June 2: Ms. St-Onge orders a financial audit of the settlement to confirm that Hockey Canada did not use taxpayer dollars.
- June 20: Two Hockey Canada executives testify before a House of Commons committee about whether or not any public funds were used.
- June 22: The Canadian government freezes Hockey Canada’s federal funding.
- June 28: Bank of Nova Scotia announces it will “pause” its Hockey Canada sponsorship. Canadian Tire and Telus announce that they would pull their support from August’s IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton.
- June 29: Tim Hortons announces it will suspend its support of the IIHF World Junior Championship.
- July 14: Hockey Canada says it will reopen the third-party investigation into the 2018 sexual assault allegations.
- July 19: A Globe investigation finds that Hockey Canada used registration fees to build a fund to cover sexual-assault claims.
- July 20: Hockey Canada says its suspending the use of the multimillion-dollar fund following the Globe investigation.
- July 20: Police in London, Ont., launch an internal review of its sexual assault investigation that concluded without criminal charges after a Hockey Canada fundraising gala in June, 2018.
- July 22: Halifax police service open an investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of Canada’s 2003 world junior hockey team.
- July 22: London, Ont. police reopen criminal investigation of the 2018 world junior hockey team after determining there are additional investigative avenues to pursue.
- July 25: Hockey Canada releases a 19-page action plan that outlines a series of measures intended to prevent future abuses.
- July 26: Hockey Canada faces a second round of public federal hearings convened by the House of Commons standing committee on Canadian heritage.
- August 2: The woman at the centre of the Hockey Canada scandal breaks her silence.
- August 6: The chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors, Michael Brind’Amour, resigns.
- August 9: Hockey Canada appoints board member Andrea Skinner as the interim chair.
- August 15: A Globe investigation finds that Hockey Canada’s board of directors received poor grades from Sport Canada in an internal 2021 governance review.
- October 3: A Globe investigation finds that Hockey Canada used player fees to build a second fund for sexual assault claims.
- October 4: The federal committee hearings resume with testimony Michael Brind’Amour and Andrea Skinner.
- October 5: Tim Hortons, Scotiabank, Telus, Hockey Quebec and Ontario Hockey Federation pull their support.
- October 6: Hockey Manitoba asks for the resignation of Hockey Canada’s leadership team and board of directors.
- October 7: Nike suspends its Hockey Canada sponsorship.
- October 8: Hockey Canada’s interim chair Andrea Skinner resigns.
- October 11: Bauer drops out as equipment supplier for Hockey Canada men’s program.
- October 11: Hockey Canada’s CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors step down.
With reports from Marsha McLeod, Simon Houpt, Susan Krashinsky Robertson, Marty Klinkenberg, Kathryn Blaze Baum, Grant Robertson and The Canadian Press.
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