For the past few years, the overseers of Hockey Canada have been harbouring an ugly little secret: The accusation that eight of their junior players had taken part in a gang rape.
Whispers of what had taken place in London, Ont., in June, 2018, had been around for a while. But it took the efforts of sports network TSN to blow this scandal open when it reported in May that Hockey Canada had settled out of court with the woman who the men allegedly assaulted after a hockey fundraiser.
The now-24-year-old was seeking $3.55-million in damages. We don’t know the amount paid. We do know she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting her from discussing any aspect of the case as part of the deal.
This can hardly be the end of it.
It’s been reported that the woman, whose identity has not been revealed, chose not to speak with the police or name her attackers. This is not unusual. This position can be taken by the victim for numerous reasons, including her own protection. Rape victims often don’t want to go to court and face a hostile cross-examination from a defence attorney, especially ones representing eight different clients.
In this case, it might involve naming players now in the National Hockey League. Several of the players believed to have participated in the alleged assault were members of the national junior hockey team that had won a gold medal for Canada six months earlier.
It’s impossible to believe there aren’t many people who know who the eight players are. The top people at Hockey Canada almost certainly do, but insist they don’t.
Members of the Hockey Canada executive appeared before a House of Commons committee this week where questions were asked about this alleged incident and whether federal funds were used to settle the lawsuit. The committee was told that was not the case. However, the government was so disturbed by the executive team’s lack of forthrightness about the entire situation that it announced Wednesday it was freezing federal funding to the organization.
The whole thing smells of a cover-up.
Who were the eight men alleged to have been in that room that night? The eight who, according to the woman’s statement outlined in her lawsuit, subjected her to reprehensible and degrading abuse. In court papers, she clearly articulated what she says took place while she was highly intoxicated. The alleged assaults included forced oral and vaginal sex. She says she was spat on. While crying and attempting to leave the room at one point, she says she was intimidated into remaining and subjected to several more sexual assaults.
She says she was coerced into saying she was sober while a video recording was made. She says she was ordered to have a shower after the assaults ended. (The allegations have not been proven in court).
How can it possibly be that we are just finding out about all this now? Hockey Canada ordered a third-party investigation into what happened but it is currently “incomplete.” The organization didn’t mandate that players who might have been involved co-operate with investigators. They were “encouraged” to.
I don’t believe Hockey Canada paid millions, if that’s the case, simply to keep this woman quiet. It paid the money because it believed her. And the organization didn’t want this going to court where the exposure would be horrible for their star players and their potential professional careers. It would also be bad for the sport of hockey, generally.
Hockey culture in Canada is poisoned and sick. Despite all the so-called educational programs that the Canadian Hockey League says players take part in, 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.
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.
We need to know what happened in that room, and who was there. We need the identities of these men. (They were identified as John Does 1 through 8 in the lawsuit). We need a new investigation. If any of these players are in the NHL, they need to step away from their teams until there is a complete inquiry and they are fully exonerated.
The NHL says it is doing its own investigation. That won’t do. A gang rape is alleged to have occurred in this country and this needs to be pursued as a criminal matter – with urgency.
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