Hockey Canada officials were grilled with questions about the organization’s standards, review process and accountability during a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Monday.
The hearing followed news of a settlement of a lawsuit in which a young woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted by eight major junior hockey players — including members of the Canadian World Junior team — after a Hockey Canada golf tournament in London, Ontario in June 2018.
Hockey Canada was named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, along with the Canadian Hockey League and the eight John Doe defendants. The claim was settled with the complainant for an undisclosed amount.
The organization was represented in Ottawa by outgoing CEO Tom Renney, president Scott Smith and Dave Andrews, chair of Hockey Canada’s board of governors.
During the hearing, Hockey Canada revealed that it paid the settlement on behalf of all defendants, including itself, the CHL and all eight John Doe defendants despite not knowing the identity of those involved. The organization says none of the public funds it receives were used in the settlement.
Hockey Canada says that the organization still does not know the identities of the players allegedly involved in the attack — but that it learned about the incident the day after the golf tournament. At the time, Hockey Canada said it launched its own investigation with a third-party law firm.
Hockey Canada recommended that all players participate in the investigation. A dozen or more players did cooperate, but several did not, Smith said.
Some members of the committee took aim at Hockey Canada’s code of conduct, which does not require that players participate in such investigations. Conservative MP Kevin Waugh pushed Smith on accountability, stating that the organization should have compelled players to participate.
“You own that,” Waugh said.
“What is a code of conduct worth if you don’t (participate with an investigation) when there are alleged horrific sexual assaults?” asked NDP MP Peter Julian. “Shouldn’t that be a condition of being involved with Hockey Canada?”
Hockey Canada is in “talks with their partners” as to whether it can change its code of conduct to require players to take part in future investigations, Smith said. During the hearing, Smith also revealed that Hockey Canada has dealt with one to two sexual assault allegations per year over the past five or six years.
“Everyone at the table shares your concerns,” said Smith, in response to questions about the organization’s accountability. “I want every Canadian to know we take this seriously. We’ve said it since day one.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather expressed concerns that Hockey Canada hasn’t done more to discern the players involved.
Hockey Canada said it has not received a complete report from its third-party firm and said they have been advised not to make any findings from that investigation public, describing the info as “privileged.”
“I believe you’re John Doe Number 9 in this case,” Bloc Quebecois MP Sebastian Lemire said during the hearing, referring to Hockey Canada.
Renney, who has served as Hockey Canada’s CEO since 2014, acknowledged that the organization’s supervision of players was insufficient: “The line was blurred there and we fell short.”
Smith, who became president of Hockey Canada in 2017, acknowledged that the organization is “probably behind” on education initiatives; he cited the pandemic as the cause.
Later, Conservative MP John Nater charged that there had been zero accountability in this case.
“Every single player who was in London that weekend should have been mandated to participate in that review — or lose the opportunity to be affiliated and the privilege of being associated with Hockey Canada,” Natar said.
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said that two days before TSN broke the story of the case, Renney called her and told her that the case had been settled and that there was an NDA that would prevent him from discussing the case.
St-Onge said that there will be a financial audit of the out-of-court settlement, to ensure that no public funds were used.
“It is the responsibility of our leaders in sport to prevent this type of behavior,” she said. “This cannot happen again.”
(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)