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Hockey Canada players face sexual assault allegations: How the government knew four years prior

By Nazeefa Ahmed, July 27 2022—

Hockey Canada’s federal funding has been frozen after inadequate action to sexual assault allegations. The decision came after news of a settled sexual assault lawsuit emerged from an alleged assault by eight players on an intoxicated woman during a Hockey Canada Foundation Celebration event in 2018.

Outgoing CEO Tom Renney and President Scott Smith testified to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Questions consisted of if the public funding was used to settle the lawsuit, and their involvement in handling the case. On June 20, Hockey Canada President and COO Scott Smith testified that in the past five or six years, the organization has received up to two allegations of sexual assault annually.

After the testimony, sports minister Pascale St-Onge told the media of the House’s final verdict.

“Today, the House sends a very strong message to Hockey Canada, saying that their testimony on Monday was insufficient as well as their management of the cases brought up by the media,” she said. “The culture of silence needs to end and we need to stand up against sexual violence. Today, I also announce that I will be withholding the funding for Hockey Canada until they meet two realistic conditions. If they want federal funding, they need to comply.”

Her first condition is to send the report from the third party that investigated the case. The report needs to include any recommendations and their plan to implement the recommendations to Sport Canada. Her second condition is to join the sport integrity commissioner.  

The company’s inaction has come to represent a needed shift in Canadian sport culture. Interim conservative party leader Candice Bergen called Trudeau’s government out on the inaction for this case.

“Yesterday we learned government officials were made aware four years ago about reports of sexual assualt by players in Hockey Canada,” she said on Global News coverage. “They did nothing and no one was held accountable. The only thing the liberals did was give Hockey Canada 14 million dollars. For a prime minister that claims to be a feminist, there seems to be a pattern of covering up a rewarding bad behaviour.”

Trudeau responded by calling the behaviour unacceptable. Yet, any meaningful action came from the St-Onge, who called for the freeze. Six percent of Hockey Canada’s budget comes from federal funding, which is around $7.8 million. In an interview with Global News, Dr. Ann Pegoraro, the chair in sport management at the University of Guelph, spoke about how monetary motivation will make abuse victims heard.

“I think our new sports minister is very committed to making change,” she said. “When you get hit in the wallet, it gets your attention. The minister has put money behind new safe sport mechanisms and she has called Hockey Canada to testify in Parliament.

“They need to take a look at all the individuals involved around this particular decision and think about if they need to leave this organization,” she continued. “They have also signed the pledge to use the external mechanism for any future investigation. This needs to happen. We need outside people looking into our sport world.”

The 2018 incident is not an isolated event either. There is the famous case of Sheldon Kennedy in 1997, who experienced alleged sexual abuse by his coach Graham James during his time in the Western Hockey League. The same coach faced more charges in 2015 for abusing Theo Fleury, another NHL hockey player. Most recently, in June 2020, former players Daniel Carcillo and Garret Taylor allegedly faced bullying and assault in junior hockey.

Associate professor at St. Thomas University, Kristi Allan, described to Global News how these repeating patterns which are related to the culture of men’s hockey allowed these problems to perpetuate.

“They’re tied to the violent culture of men’s hockey in Canada,” she said. “And the code of silence that exists within that culture allows violence to perpetuate.”

She also claims that the patriotic representation of hockey in Canada makes it difficult for some to find faults in the men that are celebrated.

“Hockey is so deeply connected to our sense of national identity,” she said. “These were athletes that were widely celebrated, they wore the flag on their bodies. When they turn around and allegedly rape women, we brush that aside.”

After the hearings in June, there will be two more on July 28 and 29 to further understand the role, or lack thereof of Hockey Canada in the allegations that have come to light.

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