Hockey Canada is reopening a third-party investigation into allegations of sexual assault involving eight Canadian Hockey League players, after the organization’s handling of the alleged incident triggered federal committee hearings and the suspension of corporate partnerships.
The national governing body for hockey said in an open letter on Thursday that it will take a number of measures to “end the culture of toxic behaviour” within the sport. Among the actions outlined is the resumption of a probe into allegations that a group of CHL players, including members of the 2018 gold-medal-winning world junior team, sexually assaulted a woman after a Hockey Canada Foundation gala in London, Ont., on June 18, 2018.
The fallout from the allegations has been widespread. Ottawa paused its funding to Hockey Canada as it conducts a financial audit to confirm that taxpayer dollars weren’t used in a settlement related to the alleged incident. The National Hockey League launched its own investigation, since a number of players who attended the 2018 gala may now be in the league.
In Montreal on Thursday, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge described the measures announced by Hockey Canada as a “good step in the right direction,” but said she is waiting to see action before Ottawa makes any further decisions.
Hockey Canada is facing another round of federal hearings on the matter, slated for July 26 and 27 in Ottawa. In addition to Hockey Canada executives and government officials, the Canadian Heritage committee has said it wants to hear from the president of a liability insurance company and from Henein Hutchison, the law firm conducting the third-party probe.
Hockey Canada has said Henein Hutchison’s initial investigation couldn’t be completed because the alleged victim opted not to speak with the investigator. The woman’s lawyer, Rob Talach, said in an e-mail that his client will participate this time.
On top of reopening the investigation, Hockey Canada announced that it will also: require all high-performance players, coaches, team staff and volunteers to participate in mandatory sexual violence and consent training; conduct a governance review; commit to becoming a signatory to the recently created federal Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner; and create an independent and confidential complaint mechanism.
“We know we are at a crossroads, and that the journey ahead of us is an important one that will define not just the game going forward, but the future of Hockey Canada,” the organization said in its letter.
The allegations were made public in late May, when TSN reported that a settlement had been reached in a $3.55-million lawsuit, which cited eight unnamed players, the CHL and Hockey Canada as defendants. Hockey Canada has said it covered the settlement on behalf of the parties by liquidating a portion of its investments.
According to her statement of claim, the woman, now 24 years old, “engaged in sexual acts” with John Doe No. 1 in his hotel room. Without her consent, the claim reads, John Doe No. 1 then invited seven other players into the room, where they participated in “some or all” of a list of sexual acts.
Hockey Canada has said that the woman made a complaint to the London Police Service, which launched a criminal investigation. The sports organization has said it was notified in February of 2019 that the police service had closed its investigation. No charges were laid.
Anil Kapoor, a lawyer for one of the players, criticized Hockey Canada for its characterization of the allegations in the open letter. “This Hockey Canada letter starts from a presumption of guilt,” he said. “That’s profoundly unfair to the players. We have serious doubts about the fairness of the process.”
At the federal committee hearings last month, Hockey Canada’s outgoing CEO, Tom Renney, told MPs that within hours of learning of the allegations on June 19, 2018, the organization contacted local police and engaged Henein Hutchison to conduct the third-party investigation.
Mr. Renney, who said he informed Hockey Canada’s board in April, 2021, that he would not be extending his contract, said the organization told players it was their choice whether to participate in the probe, but encouraged them to do so. Hockey Canada executives gave conflicting testimony to the committee about the number of players who participated in the probe.
In its open letter, Hockey Canada says it will now require all players to participate in the reopened probe. If they don’t, they’ll be banned from all Hockey Canada activities and programs.
“The investigation, once complete, will be referred to an independent adjudicative panel of current and former judges who will determine the appropriate consequences, which may include a lifetime ban from Hockey Canada activity, on and off the ice,” the letter says.
The NHL declined to say whether the league would force players to participate in its investigation and what consequences they might face if they don’t. “The NHL intends to continue pursuing and conducting our investigation,” league spokesperson Gary Meagher said in an e-mail. “We will not be commenting further until it has been completed.”
In terms of federal funding, Ms. St-Onge has said that Hockey Canada would only see it restored once the organization signed onto the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, whose mandate is to confront serious complaints of abuse and maltreatment in sport. She has also said that Hockey Canada must disclose the recommendations made as a result of Henein Hutchison’s initial investigation. (Hockey Canada’s open letter doesn’t include a commitment to releasing any such recommendations.)
Several Hockey Canada partners that have withdrawn or paused their support also reacted to the open letter, including Scotiabank, which described the organization’s statement as a “positive next step,” and Nike, which said it has raised concerns with Hockey Canada and is “deeply disturbed” by the allegations. TSN and RDS, which are airing the world juniors next month, said they “look forward to reviewing the changes the organization will outline in its action plan.”
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who sits on the Canadian Heritage committee, said he expects the federal hearings at the end of the month to be “tumultuous.” In advance of the hearings, the committee has requested a redacted copy of the confidentiality agreement related to the settlement, as well as communications between Hockey Canada and teams, players and federal officials.
“Hockey Canada is right that people are angry,” Mr. Waugh said in an interview from Saskatoon, referring to comments made in the open letter. “I’ve heard it on the street here. You’d hear that all over the country.”
With reports from Simon Houpt, Joe Friesen and Colin Freeze
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