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Hockey Canada is facing growing backlash in response to the organization’s handling of sexual assault allegations.The Canadian Press

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.


Latest updates


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.


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.

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?

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.


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.

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 second multimillion-dollar 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.

The second fund known as the Health Benefits Trust has also been found putting money toward liability coverage for its directors and officers, say court documents associated with an injury lawsuit against Hockey Canada. The trust, which is intended to cover items such as dental work and physiotherapy, is worth about $6-million, according to recent financial records.

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.

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 this week to re-examine their initial investigation. They determined within two days that the case should be reopened.

Parents and minor-league associations are also questioning the transparency of Hockey Canada’s equity fund and beginning to rebel following the latest developments. Meanwhile, in an open letter issued Tuesday to federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge and a group of MPs, a group of leading researchers say Ottawa needs to do a better job of holding sports organizations accountable.


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.


How sponsors have responded

Tim Hortons has suspended its support of the IIHF World Junior Championship and plans to re-evaluate its sponsorship of Hockey Canada, over the organization’s response to the sexual-assault allegations. Tim Hortons has been a sponsor of Hockey Canada since 2018, and expanded the partnership in 2019 to become the organization’s fourth “premier marketing partner,” along with Nike, Telus, broadcaster TSN and RDS, and Esso.

The move by the high-profile Canadian brand, owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International Inc., adds to a growing backlash from Hockey Canada’s corporate partners. Imperial Oil Canada also announced that its Esso brand will not appear as a sponsor of the World Junior Championship tournament, which is scheduled to be held in Edmonton in August. Bank of Nova Scotia said it would “pause” its Hockey Canada sponsorship, and Canadian Tire and Telus also pulled their support from the world junior event.

However, Bell Media sports networks TSN and RDS are holding back from joining the growing exodus of Hockey Canada promotional partners. The networks – which are long-time official broadcast partners of Hockey Canada, and own the rights to air its marquee events until 2034 – did not indicate any change in their plans to broadcast tournaments involving Hockey Canada, including August’s world junior men’s championship in Edmonton.


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.

He also writes that “a junior hockey sexual assault scandal should sicken us all”:

There is little evidence that the warped view of masculinity that is pervasive in far too many junior hockey dressing rooms has changed much over the years. There is little proof that an environment that condones the degradation and exploitation of young women is any better today than it was 40 years ago. It’s pathetic. Cases of sexual assaults in junior hockey stretch back decades. And despite all the promises to do better, we’re still dealing with incidents like this one.

In her latest column, 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.

More reading:

How Hockey Canada used registration fees to build a fund to cover sexual-assault claims

Canadian world junior player asked woman whether she had gone to police after alleged sexual assault

Hockey Canada suspends use of fund to settle sexual-assault claims

Hockey Canada says it paid $8.9-million to settle 21 cases of alleged sexual assault since 1989

Tim Hortons suspending World Juniors sponsorship over Hockey Canada’s response to sexual assault allegations

Hockey Canada executives say they don’t know identities of players in sexual assault allegations

Ottawa freezes Hockey Canada’s funding following testimony over sexual assault allegations

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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