Minor-hockey associations across the country have begun to rebel against Hockey Canada after learning that a portion of funds from players’ registration fees have been used to settle sexual-abuse claims.
Quebec regional hockey associations are scheduled to meet with Hockey Quebec on Aug. 3 to discuss the fallout over the controversy that has enveloped Hockey Canada since the organization settled a $3.55-million lawsuit in May over allegations that a woman was sexually assaulted by Canadian Hockey League players after a 2018 Hockey Canada fundraiser in London. Ont.
Associations in Manitoba and Alberta are also considering their next moves.
The Granby Minor Hockey Association’s board has voted unanimously to suspend its payments in response to Hockey Canada’s management of allegations of sexual misconduct by players that included members of the 2018 world junior team.
The Granby association makes payments to Hockey Canada through Hockey Estrie, its regional head in Sherbrooke. “A lot of people are not happy with this situation,” Guy Désilets, a retired police officer and the president of Hockey Estrie, said on Thursday. “It is not only people in Quebec. It is people from other provinces. Everywhere.”
Sport Canada has frozen its funding to Hockey Canada, parliamentary committee hearings have been held and major sponsors have at least temporarily stepped away from Hockey Canada. The National Hockey League has begun its own investigation into the organization and any players involved.
A police investigation has been reopened into the 2018 case in London, and an alleged sexual assault involving the 2003 world junior team is now being investigated by police in Halifax.
At a parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday, Hockey Canada said it has paid $8.9-million since 1989 to settle 21 cases of alleged sexual assault. The bulk of the money came from a special fund built in part through registration fees that wasn’t disclosed to parents and players.
The way the controversy has been handled by Hockey Canada has sparked anger among parents of young hockey players.
Daryl Fowler, the president of Hockey Winnipeg, told The Globe on Thursday that concerned parents have been calling and want to know how the money they paid to Hockey Canada was used by the organization.
“We’ve had a few parents contact us basically asking what we’re going do and how we’re going handle it,” Mr. Fowler said. “They want to know … whether we’re just going continue to send the money.”
Hockey Winnipeg’s board of directors is scheduled to meet on Aug. 8, and it will be a major topic of discussion.
“We’ll be demanding some transparency for sure before we send money,” Mr. Fowler said. He said the association writes a cheque to Hockey Canada for several hundred thousands dollars a year. “We’ve had 15 or 20 parents reach out to us out of almost 10,000, but you also know that there are all sorts of parents talking about it and going, ‘You know, should I have my kid in hockey or not?’ ”
Hockey Manitoba’s officials plan to meet in the second week of August so Hockey Winnipeg is anxious to see what direction it will take.
“We don’t really know what’s going on yet,” Mr. Fowler said. “If Hockey Manitoba doesn’t agree with us, then I guess we’ll go out on our own. It’s a lot of money that has been paid out.
“We think it’s laughable when Hockey Canada says there were no public funds used for this. Well, that’s all they’ve got: public funds.”
On Thursday, a member of the federal committee probing Hockey Canada’s handling of the 2018 sexual-assault allegations called for two former sports ministers to testify about the communication within Sport Canada related to the alleged incident.
NDP MP Peter Julian pointed to a federal directive, published on June 19, 2018, that said national sports organizations that receive federal funding must “immediately disclose any incident of harassment, abuse or discrimination that could compromise the project or programming to the Minister of Sport.”
Hockey Canada representatives testified last month that they reported the allegations to their principal contact within Sport Canada on June 26, 2018. And while several officials within the federal branch were also told of the complaint at the time, the matter was not escalated to the attention of then-minister Kirsty Duncan. The government didn’t follow up with Hockey Canada for four years.
Sport Canada senior director Michel Ruest, who was among those who knew of the 2018 complaint within days of the alleged incident, told the committee this week that, to his knowledge, transition documents to subsequent ministers did not include information about the allegations.
Ms. Duncan served as minister of sport from January, 2018, until November, 2019, when Steven Guilbeault took over the file. Mr. Guilbeault is currently the Environment Minister. Mr. Julian said he wants those two former sports ministers to appear before the committee to answer questions about the lack of communication to the ministerial level.
In addition, Mr. Julian said he would like the current Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, to testify for a third time. Ms. St-Onge already appeared before the committee in June as well as earlier this week.
“The NDP is asking for these three Liberal ministers to come before the committee and explain why it seems that this important government directive about incidents of sexual assault wasn’t followed,” Mr. Julian, the party’s heritage critic, said in a statement Thursday evening.
In an op-ed published in The Globe, Ms. Duncan said she was not informed of the alleged 2018 assault. The Liberal MP, who made issues around safe sport a priority when she was minister, said she has “zero confidence” that Hockey Canada’s leadership can bring about meaningful change to the troubling culture in the sport.
“When the spotlight was on safe sport – and let me be clear, safe sport should be the daily, primary focus – the organization failed to change, and is now promising action only after the alleged assault was brought to light by the media,” she wrote. “No sport, no organization, no one is above the law.”
Dustin Pysyk, the president of the Athabasca & District Minor Hockey Association, says every dollar and every player counts in his small Northern Alberta association that has 164 players. He fears that this summer’s revelations about Hockey Canada funds being used to settle sexual-assault lawsuits could undermine support.
“My board and other people are concerned,” Mr. Pysyk said. “We never envisioned that we would be basically supporting something like this by sending our membership fees to them. That’s our No. 1 concern.”
Mr. Pysyk said his board has not met during the summer but he anticipates that Hockey Canada will be increasingly discussed at minor-hockey associations as practices and play resume.
“I’m pretty sure that it is something we will have to address,” he said. “With the state of all the expenses, the inflation in this country, people will be more than ever [asking] ‘Do I put my kids in hockey?’
“And this does not help in convincing those fence-sitters to consider joining an association like us.”
The president of the Granby Minor Hockey Association, Denis Bessette, said he took a resolution from the board of directors to Hockey Estrie. It requests that no payment be made until Sport Canada reverses its position and resumes funding for Hockey Canada.
Mr. Bessette said the local association, which represents about 450 members, usually forwards its registration fees to Hockey Estrie in September.
The Granby minor hockey group wants other associations to join in withholding registration fees from Hockey Canada.
François Lemay, a Granby minor hockey coach, said he was disgusted when he learned a portion of registration fees were used in sexual-abuse settlements.
“I think we should withhold the money until they clean their nest,” Mr. Lemay said. “Hockey Canada has lost its soul of being an amateur sports organization and forgot what its role really is.”
A school principal, Mr. Lemay is a municipal councillor in Granby and oversees the city’s sports and outdoor activities.
“We will not be the only association to do this,” Mr. Lemay said. “There will be more. It is not going to stop. Hockey Canada is going to have to face very angry parents.”
With reports from Simon Houpt and Colin Freeze
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