Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing body, has been embroiled in controversy over its handling of sexual assault allegations made against members of the 2018 national junior team, and for quietly using registration fees from players across the country to settle such cases.
Hockey Canada sexual assault scandal
Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing body, has been embroiled in controversy over its handling of sexual assault allegations made against members of the 2018 national junior team, and for quietly using registration fees from players across the country to settle such cases. Federal MPs have accused the organization of trying to cover up the incident, and multiple new investigations have been launched into the matter.
What is the Hockey Canada scandal?
The controversy began in the spring of 2022 when court documents emerged showing Hockey Canada settled a $3.55-million lawsuit, for an undisclosed sum, filed by a young woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by several members of the 2018 national junior team. The documents stated the woman consented to sex with one player in a hotel room following a Hockey Canada gala that summer, but the player allegedly invited several team members into the room to engage in sex acts with her without her agreeing. The woman alleged she was intoxicated and was intimidated by the players. She alleged she was forced to record a video afterward saying she had consented. The allegations have not been proven in court. News of the settlement led to accusations from MPs that Hockey Canada tried to sweep the matter under the rug, without investigating properly, or holding those allegedly involved accountable. The Globe and Mail revealed Hockey Canada operated multiple undisclosed multimillion-dollar funds that quietly used registration fees to pay settlements in sexual assault cases, without telling parents and players how their money was being used. The Globe was the first to report the details of the National Equity Fund and its link to registration fees in July, and later revealed a second secret fund in October, which was uncovered in Hockey Canada documents. The settlement related to the 2018 incident was reported in May by TSN. However, it was not clear how much the lawsuit was settled for. Hockey Canada’s 2021-22 audited financials show it paid out roughly $2.9-million in multiple settlements last year, indicating that the lawsuit was settled for less than the original $3.55-million claim.
What is the controversy over Hockey Canada’s funds for sexual assault?
Hockey Canada quietly set aside millions of dollars in registration fees each year to be used for out-of-court sexual assault settlements without disclosing to parents and players how their money was used. The Globe revealed the National Equity Fund contained as much as $15-million some years, with all of that money coming from registration fees collected from players as young as those registered in beginner Timbits hockey. The fund allowed Hockey Canada to settle cases without a court hearing, and without an investigation by its insurance company, which kept these allegations out of the public eye. Details of the funds were difficult to find on Hockey Canada’s books. Nowhere in its annual reports, on its audited financial statements, or in the insurance handbook given to parents and players, was the organization fully transparent about how these financial reserves were actually used. Nor was Hockey Canada forthcoming with the government: In June, when executives were asked at federal hearings where Hockey Canada got the money to settle the lawsuit, they were quick to tell MPs that no federal grant money was used. They also reassured major sponsors, concerned their dollars were linked to an alleged sexual assault that wasn’t fully investigated, that no corporate money was used. But Hockey Canada made no mention of the National Equity Fund, built through player fees.
Following The Globe’s revelations, Hockey Canada was forced to disclose the full extent of its sexual assault payouts using the National Equity Fund, which wasn’t previously known. At parliamentary hearings in July, executives told MPs the organization paid $8.9-million to settle 21 cases of alleged sexual assault since 1989. That included 9 claims worth $7.6-million from the National Equity Fund.
In October, The Globe revealed a second undisclosed fund, with an equally opaque name, known as the Participants Legacy Trust Fund. It was also set up for potential sexual assault claims and was created using more than $7-million worth of registration fees. It was also obscured on Hockey Canada’s books. MPs were outraged, accusing Hockey Canada of withholding material information while under oath from a parliamentary committee investigating the organization. Several MPs said the funds sent the wrong message about sexual assault – that alleged incidents could be swept aside by Hockey Canada, and that those accused of wrongdoing would not be held accountable.
What new evidence has emerged?
In July, The Globe revealed the contents of videos players took after the alleged incident, where the young woman was asked if she consented and responded that she had. Lawyers for the players said it showed she had agreed to the acts, but the young woman said she was intimidated into making such statements. Experts raised questions about whether the victim had been coerced. The Globe also revealed text messages that showed one player contacted the woman after her mom went to police, telling her to “make this go away.”
The woman, known only as E.M. in court documents, spoke exclusively with The Globe in August. Though bound by a confidentiality agreement at the time as part of the legal settlement, which restricted what she could say, E.M. revealed she cooperated with police in 2018, which contradicted Hockey Canada’s public claims that she did not assist the investigation. Hockey Canada was later forced to correct those statements. E.M. told The Globe she never sought attention, but only wanted accountability from her alleged attackers. The Globe was also given access to a polygraph test E.M. was given, which she passed.
In December, The Globe obtained documents associated with the police investigation, which was reopened by London Police in the summer. The documents raised questions about Hockey Canada’s previous public statements. At federal hearings in June, executives told MPs that Hockey Canada did not know the identities of any of the players involved in the alleged incident, which made it difficult to complete an investigation. (The players’ names are redacted from the court documents, listing them only as Player 1, Player 2, and so on.) However, the documents obtained by The Globe showed Hockey Canada reached out to a player the morning after the alleged assault to inform him police were contacted. Hockey Canada has said it contacted the player who the hotel room belonged to, but MPs said they believe this new detail contradicts the organization’s statements at federal hearings that it did not know the identities of any players connected to the incident. The documents also revealed that police believe there are grounds to charge five players with sexual assault. The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been laid.
What investigations are happening?
The London Police have reopened their 2018 investigation. Though documents indicate police believe there are grounds to charge five players, it is not clear what the outcome will be. The National Hockey League is also conducting its own investigation, since some of the accused players play in that league. On January 24, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL’s probe is “really close to the end,” but gave no estimate on when it would finish. The comments echoed similar words in December, when he said the investigation was in the “home stretch” while giving no timeline.
In Ottawa, a parliamentary committee is investigating. The committee was initially struck to question Hockey Canada over its handling of the incident and determine if public money was used to pay the settlement, but its scope has since been broadened to investigate Hockey Canada’s funds, as well as safety and oversight in Canadian sport. The committee is expected to complete a report for government this year.
Hockey Canada also commissioned its own third-party investigation into the matter, which is now complete. The report has been forwarded to an adjudication panel to determine the next steps, the organization said in December. The panel is comprised of two retired judges and a senior lawyer, who will determine what sanctions, if any, will be imposed.
One prominent investigation has been completed: After Hockey Canada faced criticism over the National Equity Fund in July, including questions about what those funds reveal about its governance practices, it commissioned a governance review. That process, led by retired Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell, found serious governance failures at Hockey Canada, including a failure to properly disclose the National Equity Fund and other such reserves intended for sexual assault settlements. Mr. Cromwell also raised concerns over millions of dollars in payments made from the National Equity Fund that were not properly reported or disclosed, as well as inaccurate statements by Hockey Canada about the fund’s use toward player health and wellness programs, which he could not verify on the books. Hockey Canada later admitted its public statements were wrong.
After delivering his findings on the National Equity Fund and other governance lapses, Mr. Cromwell told Hockey Canada’s board of directors they needed to step down, which they did. Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith was also fired.