Hockey Canada’s federal funding restoration is under fire from opposition MPs, who believe the decision was premature and lacked conditions to protect victims.
The sporting body had its funding frozen by sport minister Pascale St-Onge since June 22, 2022. St-Onge overturned that decision – with conditions – on Sunday before the Canadian women’s team’s gold-medal game against the U.S. in Brampton, Ont.
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh was caught off guard by the decision.
“Totally surprised that the minister would make that announcement,” he said Monday, entering the House of Commons. “They’re not there yet, Hockey Canada.
“They’ve made some progress, I will say that. … But there’s lots more work to be done. I think it was just premature, I really do. There was no need to restore the funding, nobody had their hand out for Hockey Canada.
“It was the government trying to cover up what they didn’t do, I think, in 2018. And that was Sport Canada and the minister at the time, should’ve suspended the funding back then when this allegation started.”
NDP MP Peter Julian shared a similar sentiment.
“It’s a very premature decision,” he said. “Hockey Canada hasn’t met all of the obligations that they’ve already made.
“For example, they promised last summer that they would release victims from non-disclosure agreements, which muzzle victims who choose to speak. Victims are not obliged to speak but if they choose to speak, they’re muzzled legally and Hockey Canada hasn’t released the victims from this.”
Waugh also said the removal of non-disclosure agreements should “absolutely” have been one of the conditions in providing Hockey Canada funding again.
“I’m tired of those non-disclosure agreements, and not only in hockey, in every sport that we have in this country,” he said. “We’re not getting anywhere when you start these non-disclosure agreements and there’s money flowing back and forth.
“The sport minister should make it available to all 63 national sport organizations that we don’t have any of these non-disclosure agreements.”
When asked why the conditions of Hockey Canada getting its funding back didn’t involve the stoppage in use of non-disclosure agreements, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’d defer to St-Onge on answering such questions but that parents need to know change is happening.
“We need to know that the mentality has changed, that the culture is being addressed,” he said. “We put extremely clear expectations before Hockey Canada, before we would restore funding to them.
“They have indicated a real willingness to move forward on that. But we are going to continue to be extremely vigilant around ensuring that they continue to be worthy of the trust that millions of Canadians put in them, as we encourage our kids to play sports, and specifically hockey.”
St-Onge said she wants the matter dealt with in a way that balances both ends of the NDAs.
“We’re going to deal with this question not only with Hockey Canada but for all Canadian sports organizations,” St-Onge said. “But we are looking at ways that we can do this in a legal way that protects the athletes and also sometimes non-disclosure agreements are used to protect strategies, team strategies or stuff like that.
“So we need to find the right balance. But like I said, they should never be used to silence victims.”
Questions also arose from a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting on Monday.
The parliamentary committee unanimously passed a motion ordering Hockey Canada to hand over a report from an investigation into the sexual assault allegations of the 2018 world junior team on March 27. The motion, tabled by Waugh to open a Heritage committee meeting on safe sport, ordered Hockey Canada to provide the law firm’s completed report by the following day.
Bloc Québécois MP Sebastien Lemire said the report from Heinen Hutchison Robitaille LLP has not been made public and that they don’t have the recommendations from it.
“Should we have absolute trust? Minister St-Onge says ‘Well, we’re not signing a blank cheque to Hockey Canada.’ Would we be signing a blank cheque to minister St-Onge if we don’t react to this?” Lemire questioned.
“In other words, we’re trusting her or Hockey Canada or another organization stemming from that. Because ultimately, there is no public transparency.”
Hockey Canada’s overall need for government funding – or lack thereof – was also questioned in the meeting.
“Just listening today to the work that’s being done in safe sport, it’s difficult to reconcile whatever the Sport Canada funding is for Hockey Canada with the immense needs of other organizations to do safe sports,” said Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada. “If this is a government priority, Hockey Canada doesn’t need the money, it’s got $98 million in the bank.
“As it said itself, ‘We have deep pockets.’ It has millions and millions of dollars and other organizations across Canada need funding to do critically important work.”
Federal funding from Sport Canada made up six per cent ($7.7 million) of Hockey Canada’s funding in 2022, according to the organization’s numbers. That trailed business development and partnerships (43 per cent), funding agencies (14 per cent), insurance premiums (13 per cent) and interest revenue (10 per cent).