TORONTO — Hockey Canada made a series of announcements on Thursday in an open letter to Canadians, including the reopening of a third-party investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of the country’s 2018 world junior team.
The national federation said participation in the investigation by the players in question is mandatory, adding anyone who declines will be banned from all of the federation’s activities and programs effective immediately. It previously said it “strongly encouraged” players take part in the investigation into the alleged incident, which occurred at a Hockey Canada function in London, Ontario.
Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith, who took on the role July 1 and has held various jobs at the federation since 1995, testified on last month that “12 or 13″ of the 19 players from the team were interviewed before the original and incomplete investigation concluded in September 2020.
“We know we have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 national junior team or to end the culture of toxic behavior within our game. For that we unreservedly apologize,” Hockey Canada’s letter said. “We know we need to do more to address the behaviors, on and off the ice, that conflict with what Canadians want hockey to be, and which undermine the many good things that the game brings to our country.”
Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit in May after a woman claimed she was assaulted by eight players, including members of the country’s 2018 gold-medal winning junior team. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Smith, Hockey Canada’s then-president, and outgoing CEO Tom Renney were grilled by MPs in Ottawa last month after news of the alleged assault and settlement broke. Unhappy with what it heard from the executives, the federal government subsequently paused public funding for the national body. A number of companies also suspended sponsorships as they awaited next steps.
“We recognize many of the actions we are taking now should have been taken sooner, and faster,” Hockey Canada’s letter read. “We own that and will do better to deliver on our responsibilities to Canadians.”
Hockey Canada said it will now require players, coaches, team staff and volunteers associated with its high-performance program to participate in mandatory sexual violence and consent training.
It will also conduct a full third-party review of the organization’s governance, and is committing to become a full signatory to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, a new government agency with the power to independently investigate abuse complaints and levy sanctions.
Hockey Canada said it will also create an “independent and confidential complaint mechanism” to provide victims and survivors tools and support to come forward.
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said last month federal money would only be restored once officials produced the incomplete third-party report and became a signatory to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner. Hockey Canada received $14 million from Ottawa in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in COVID-19 subsidies, according to government records.
Hockey Canada did not commit to releasing either the incomplete or full report to the government in its letter. Once the investigation is completed — by the same Toronto law firm hired in 2018 — it 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 woman who made the assault allegation was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and the unnamed players.
“We acknowledge the courage of the young woman involved and respect her decision to participate with the investigation in the manner she chooses,” Hockey Canada wrote Thursday.
Hockey Canada has said it learned of the incident the day after it was alleged to have occurred, started to investigate and notified police.
Details of the settlement have not been publicized, but Smith testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in June that Hockey Canada came up with the funds and paid the entire sum, adding no government money was used. St-Onge ordered an audit to make sure that’s the case.
The committee is set to meet July 26 and 27 to hear from more witnesses. It has also requested a redacted copy of the nondisclosure agreement related to the settlement along with a long list of Hockey Canada communications.
The NHL is also conducting an investigation because some of the players from the team are now in the league.
Companies that paused or withdrew funding from Hockey Canada or specific events include Scotiabank, Telus, Tim Hortons and Imperial Oil, under its Esso brand.