Hockey, Sports

Trib Explains: What is happening with Hockey Canada

TW: Mentions of sexual violence

In May 2022, Rick Westhead revealed that a plaintiff had settled a sexual assault lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), and eight unnamed CHL players. The lawsuit alleged that eight CHL players, including members of the 2018 Men’s National Junior Hockey Team, sexually assaulted a young woman in a hotel room in June 2018 following the Hockey Canada Foundation gala and golf event in London, Ontario.  

The young woman claimed that one player had given her copious amounts of alcohol and lured her back to his hotel room where the two engaged in sexual acts. The first player then invited seven others without the young woman’s knowledge or consent. According to the lawsuit, the eight players went on to sexually assault the young woman for hours, threatening and manipulating her into staying when she attempted to leave. 

The young woman said that, after the sexual assaults, the players forced her to shower and state on video that she was not fearful, intimidated, or intoxicated prior to the assault. The players’ lawyers later shared the recording with The Globe and Mail in an attempt to exonerate them from any wrongdoing. 

The news of the sexual assaults prompted several MPs to accuse Hockey Canada of trying to cover-up the alleged assaults without investigating properly. In July 2022, The Globe revealed that Hockey Canada maintained a multi-million dollar National Equity Fund, largely composed of registration fees from players its sanctioned leagues, to be used for out-of-court sexual assault settlements without disclosing to parents or players how their money was used. 

Further investigation by The Globe revealed that the fund exceeded $15 million in recent years. Parliamentary hearings also revealed that Hockey Canada has paid $8.9 million to settle multiple cases of alleged sexual assault since 1989. 

Hockey Canada has consequently lost a number of sponsors following the parliamentary hearings. In June 2022, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge put the organizations’ $7.7 million in government funding on hold but elected to restore it in April 2023, after the organization agreed to meet three conditions

Multiple investigations are currently ongoing regarding Hockey Canada and the alleged sexual assault in 2018. The only investigation that has concluded is a governance review led by retired Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell, who found serious governance failures within Hockey Canada—including the failure to disclose the National Equity Fund. After delivering his findings, Cromwell asserted the board of directors must step down, which they did. Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith has also since been replaced by Katherine Henderson, the former CEO of Curling Canada

On Nov. 14, Hockey Canada finally announced that an independent adjudicative panel into the alleged 2018 group sexual assault had reached the conclusion that members of the 2018 World Junior team violated the governing body’s code of conduct. It is confirmed that the young woman involved cooperated in the investigation, an excuse Hockey Canada levied in their defense of a lack of investigation. Following the panel’s disclosure to Hockey Canada and other parties involved, an undisclosed party initiated an appeal to the panel’s decision. As a result, Hockey Canada will keep the details of the panel’s report, including the names of players involved, private until the appeal is concluded to “not interfere with the integrity of the appeal process.” Hockey Canada has stated that the appeal will begin “in the near future.”

Still ongoing is the London Police investigation into the 2018 assault. While documents suggest that there are grounds to charge five players, it is unclear what the outcome will be and the London Police have asserted that Hockey Canada’s investigations will not affect their conclusions. 

The National Hockey League (NHL) is also still conducting its own investigation into the 2018 incident as players assumed to be involved are on active rosters. Despite announcing in Jan. 2023 that the investigation was “really close to the end,” as of Aug. 2023, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly stated that the NHL does not “have a specific timetable to share at this time.” 
Ultimately, there are still very few answers. In Ottawa, Hockey Canada has been included in the ongoing parliamentary hearings by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage into Safe Sport in Canada that outline the crisis of abuse within Canadian sport. The next hearing will take place on Nov. 21.

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