Tim Hortons is suspending its support of the IIHF World Junior Championship and plans to re-evaluate its sponsorship of Hockey Canada, over the organization’s response to allegations that eight Canadian Hockey League players sexually assaulted a young woman in 2018 after a Hockey Canada gala.
The move by the high-profile Canadian brand adds to a growing backlash from Hockey Canada’s corporate partners, after it paid an undisclosed sum last month to settle the allegations.
In addition to the fast-food chain, owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International Inc., QSR-T Imperial Oil Canada also announced on Wednesday that its Esso brand will not appear as a sponsor of the World Junior Championship tournament, which is scheduled to be held in Edmonton in August. One day earlier, Bank of Nova Scotia said it would “pause” its Hockey Canada sponsorship, and Canadian Tire and Telus also pulled their support from the World Junior event.
“Hockey Canada has communicated that it is committed to changing the culture of hockey to make it safer and more inclusive for all, on and off the ice. We have expressed strongly that we believe Canadians are urgently seeking concrete details from Hockey Canada about how it intends to do so,” Tim Hortons spokesperson Michael Oliveira wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We will re-evaluate our sponsorship agreement once we have all the information we need to consider our options.”
Hockey is deeply entwined in the marketing DNA of Tim Hortons, which is also a sponsor of the National Hockey League in Canada; has recruited stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon to star in its commercials; and partners with more than 950 local hockey associations across Canada through its Timbits program.
Tim Hortons has been a sponsor of Hockey Canada since 2018, and expanded the partnership in 2019 to become the organization’s fourth “premier marketing partner,” along with Nike, Telus, broadcaster TSN and RDS, and Esso.
“This matter is deeply concerning, and we have communicated our expectations to Hockey Canada that concrete steps must be taken to address safety issues and ensure swift culture change,” Keri Scobie, a public and government affairs manager at Imperial, wrote in a statement.
Spokespeople for Nike and TSN/RDS did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
For the moment, the World Junior event is the only aspect of Tim Hortons’ sponsorship that has changed; the company’s involvement with Hockey Canada also includes the role of presenting sponsor of the Centennial Cup – the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s annual championship – which was held this year in May, as well as participation in international events including the World Juniors and the IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship.
Timbits hockey is also not affected. The program, launched in 1982, predates the Hockey Canada sponsorship, but the company does partner with Hockey Canada on some coaching and programing support for Timbits, Mr. Oliveira wrote in an e-mail.
Mr. Oliveira did not respond to a question about whether Tim Hortons intends to redirect the funds that would have been used in marketing around the World Juniors to any other causes.
In an interview on Wednesday, former National Hockey League player Sheldon Kennedy said the incident highlights the changes that are needed to address “the systemic violence in our national sport.”
Mr. Kennedy – who has become an advocate for victims of abuse after speaking out about his own abuse by junior hockey coach Graham James – said that sport organizations have an obligation to acknowledge wrongdoing.
“In this case there has been no strong acknowledgment,” he said on the phone from Calgary.
Through the Respect Group, which he co-founded in 2004, he said mandatory training has been provided across the country to two million minor hockey coaches.
“There is a gap. The gap is the national teams and junior leagues,” he said.
In a lawsuit filed in April, a woman sought $3.55-million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League, and unnamed players who she alleged repeatedly assaulted her in a hotel room after the 2018 event in London, Ont.
Earlier this month, federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge ordered a forensic audit to ensure that Hockey Canada did not use any public funds to pay the out-of-court settlement.
Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and chief executive Tom Renney were called before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last week, and said that players who attended the 2018 event were not obligated to participate in an independent investigation of the alleged sexual assault. The committee has scheduled further hearings for the end of July.
The CHL is “deeply troubled by the allegations,” spokesperson Nikki deCarle wrote in a statement Wednesday, adding that CHL representatives are scheduled to appear before the Standing Committee on July 27, and will not be commenting further until then.
The Canadian government froze Hockey Canada’s federal funding last week, saying it would restore funding if the organization signs on to the newly formed Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which was recently created to deal with multiple complaints of abuse and maltreatment in sport.
Corporate support accounts for a far greater amount of Hockey Canada’s revenue than government funding: 43 per cent came from business development and partnerships last year, according to Hockey Canada’s annual report, while government assistance totalled just 6 per cent of the organization’s revenue.
Hockey Canada wants to make the sport “safer and more inclusive,” spokesperson Esther Madziya wrote in a statement Wednesday. “This is a priority for our organization’s leaders, and with the work we are doing, and the changes we are planning, our intention is to ensure that Hockey Canada meets the standards that our many stakeholders have for us,” she wrote.
Both Telus and Bank of Nova Scotia said on Tuesday that they would redirect funds for marketing and events around the World Juniors to organizations that support victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Those sponsors, as well as Canadian Tire, called on Hockey Canada to take action to address systemic issues in the sport.
Bauer Hockey, which is an international sponsor of Hockey Canada, is monitoring the situation “to determine next steps for our partnership and the best way to drive positive change,” vice-president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier wrote in a statement Wednesday, calling both the allegations and the organization’s response “extremely disturbing.”
In an open letter published Tuesday in The Globe, Scotiabank president and chief executive Brian Porter wrote that the company believes it has “a responsibility as hockey lovers and sponsors to contribute to positive change in the sport.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Canadian Tire criticized Hockey Canada for a “lack of transparency and accountability” regarding the allegations. “We are calling on Hockey Canada to do better and live up to their commitment to change the systemic culture of silence in our nation’s sport, and push to make it more inclusive and safe for all,” Canadian Tire vice-president of communications Stephanie Nadalin wrote.
Telus is seeking information about “specific changes” Hockey Canada is making “to drive positive cultural change and create a safe, inclusive hockey experience for all,” communications manager Liz Sauvé wrote in a statement on Tuesday.
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