The Canadian government is freezing federal funding to Hockey Canada following recent testimony from its top executives over allegations that eight Canadian Hockey League (CHL) players sexually assaulted a young woman in 2018. It has also taken steps to begin an investigation into the organization’s handling of the alleged assault.
On Wednesday, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said that to restore its funding, Hockey Canada must become a signatory to the newly operational Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which is tasked with independently investigating complaints of abuse and mistreatment.
She said that Hockey Canada must also disclose a set of recommendations for change from the law firm Henein Hutchison, which was retained by Hockey Canada to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations, and that it must share the organization’s plan to implement change.
Later on Wednesday, the House of Commons unanimously approved a motion from Bloc Quebecois MP Sébastien Lemire to request an independent investigation into Hockey Canada’s response to the 2018 allegations.
The government made the moves two days after two Hockey Canada executives, Scott Smith and Tom Renney, testified before the House of Commons heritage committee about the organization’s response to the allegations. During that testimony, the two executives said that they do not know the identities of the CHL players who are alleged to have sexually assaulted the woman.
They also said they do not know how many CHL players co-operated with the internal investigation by Henein Hutchison – and that the investigation could not be completed because the young woman chose not to speak with the investigator.
“We were all expecting answers to the many questions that we had regarding how [Hockey Canada] handled the whole situation,” St-Onge told reporters on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we did not receive many answers.”
During his testimony, Smith, Hockey Canada’s president and chief operating officer, declined to provide the committee with a copy of Henein Hutchison’s recommendations, citing legal privilege – a refusal which St-Onge called “very problematic.”
St-Onge, who also appeared before the committee on Monday, testified that she first learned of the existence of the allegations two days before the first article. She said that Renney, the chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, called her to say that a media story was forthcoming and that there had been an out-of-court settlement, but that he could not share more because of a non-disclosure agreement.
Earlier this month, St-Onge ordered a financial audit of the settlement to confirm that Hockey Canada did not use taxpayer dollars. Hockey Canada has denied directing any public funds to the settlement.
During his testimony, Smith said that within days of the incident, Hockey Canada informed the organization’s primary contact at Sport Canada about the allegations, but he said that he did not recall if the then-minister of sport was advised, as well.
In response to a question about who was apprised of the allegations, a spokesperson for Canadian Heritage said in a statement: “The incident was shared up to the associate deputy minister level in the Department of Canadian Heritage.”
Responding to the spokesperson’s comment, Conservative MP Karen Vecchio questioned why information about the incident did not appear to go all the way up to the minister. “Why did it get stopped there?” she asked.
“It took public opinion, it took public pressure for people to react,” she said. “Hockey Canada, everybody, seems to be complacent about this – even our own government.”
NDP MP Peter Julian said that while the government’s decision to suspend funding was “an important step,” there are now questions about “when the government knew, who knew, and why they did nothing about it.”
The young woman filed a $3.55-million lawsuit in April against Hockey Canada, the CHL and the eight CHL players, who included members of Canada’s under-20 men’s junior hockey team. None of the players were named.
According to her statement of claim, the woman met “John Doe No. 1″ at a bar after a Hockey Canada Foundation gala and golf event in London, Ont., in June, 2018. Later that night, after he and his teammates bought drinks for her and she became intoxicated, the woman “engaged in sexual acts” with Doe No. 1 in his hotel room. Without her consent, Doe No. 1 then invited the seven other players into the room, the claim reads, where they participated in “some or all” of a list of acts, including slapping her, spitting on her, ejaculating on and inside of her, and engaging in vaginal and oral sex with her.
The claims were not proven in court.
In the House on Tuesday, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen pressed the Liberals on their handling of the allegations.
“Government officials were made aware four years ago of reports of sexual assault by players at Hockey Canada. They did nothing and no one was held accountable,” she said. “The only thing the Liberals did was to give Hockey Canada another $14-million.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government has pushed back against sexual misconduct and harassment in organizations and workplaces across the country – and said Hockey Canada was “no different.”
Hockey Canada did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
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