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Elaine Craig is professor at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law and the research director of the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response.

There are many reasons why Hockey Canada’s reported handling of sexual assault allegations should leave us feeling disgusted. But compensation for the victims should not be on the list.

According to polling conducted last week for The Globe and Mail by Nanos Research, about 73 per cent of Canadians said they felt angry toward Hockey Canada for not telling players and parents about using its National Equity Fund – financed by registration fees from players – for sexual-assault settlements. But 71 per cent also said they broadly opposed players’ registration fees being put toward these settlements at all.

We should be angry at Hockey Canada’s lack of transparency, especially if the decision to settle allegations using the National Equity Fund – instead of a transparent and accountable process – immunized hockey players from legal accountability for alleged sexual violence. Canadians are right to be angry that the fund was used, and that they were misled. More fundamentally, we should feel furious that we continue to reckon so frequently with sexualized violence and its profound harms. But compensating women allegedly sexually assaulted by hockey players should be the focus, whether it’s done through liability insurance, which Hockey Canada has, or a form of victims’ compensation fund.

Hockey’s relationship to violence, including gender-based violence, is indisputable – and if we are unwilling to truly reform its culture, then we ought to develop better strategies to compensate its victims.

The consequences of sexual violence are expensive. Dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault costs Canadians billions of dollars a year, according to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for the Victims of Crime. The costs to individual victims – who often face medical bills, therapy costs, lost employment and educational opportunities, and difficulties retaining a lawyer – are overwhelming. In that context, a multimillion-dollar fund that pays settlements to alleged victims is tragic, but may well be appropriate.

Using the National Equity Fund for a previously undisclosed purpose is wrong. But compensating victims through an organization can be done without insulating offenders from accountability, if indeed that is what occurred at Hockey Canada. A compensatory fund could require transparency, clear process, mandatory reporting mechanisms and external oversight.

The bottom line is this: If the cultural institutions and organizations we know contribute to rape culture regularly collected money clearly earmarked for compensation from participants and members, there would be more funds broadly available for sexual assault survivors, and a greater willingness to pay out.

Until we successfully press antiquated organizations such as Hockey Canada to change, we need to accept the inevitable. So why shouldn’t hockey parents pay a small amount each year into a fund to help compensate the women who will be sexually victimized by some of the kids currently being steeped in the sport’s toxic environment?

Ultimately, here’s why we should be most angry: It doesn’t have to be this way.

Organized hockey could bring its governance model into the 21st century. Hockey culture could change. We know that having women involved at the highest levels of organizations can help change leadership and result in better decision-making. Yet the sport’s governance remains overwhelmingly male-dominated. In 2019, the Athletic found that 96 per cent of hockey operations jobs in the NHL are held by men. Seven of nine members of Hockey Canada’s board are men. And when Hockey Canada decided to undertake a governance review, it is not surprising that they overlooked the countless talented governance experts who are women, and instead chose a retired male judge.

Canadians could refuse to participate in the sport unless there are changes to how it is organized and played. But the majority – 55 per cent, according to that Nanos poll – say that the recent sexual assault allegations against hockey players would have “no impact” on whether they would let their kids play hockey. If that remains the case, we can expect the sport will continue to contribute to the serious problem of pervasive sexualized violence in Canada. And we should fully expect that it will be appropriate to compensate the women who are harmed as a result.

Hockey dads such as Conservative MP John Nater have said they find it “galling” that a portion of their child’s registration fees might be used to settle sexual-assault lawsuits. But why shouldn’t the costs of hockey’s violence be shouldered by those who partake in the sport, rather than the victims of its culture?

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