(Toronto) Hockey Canada promises change.
Posted at 6:23 a.m.
Whether these measures will be enough to satisfy the general public, fans, the federal government and sponsors remains to be seen.
The national sports federation, which has been under fire for weeks, made a series of announcements in an open letter released to Canadians and published Thursday morning. In particular, it is relaunching the investigation into allegations of sexual assault involving members of the 2018 national junior team. The investigation will again be conducted by an independent third party.
Hockey Canada clarified that the participation of all affected players is mandatory, adding that anyone who refuses will be banned from all activities and programs effective immediately.
The organization previously said it “strongly encourages” players to participate in the investigation into the incident after a Hockey Canada reception in 2018, but did not make it mandatory.
Hockey Canada President and CEO Scott Smith, who took office on May 1uh July and has served in various capacities with the body since 1995, told the Heritage Standing Committee last month that “12 or 13” of the team’s 19 players were interviewed prior to the initial and incomplete investigation that concluded in September 2020.
“We know that our response has been relatively insufficient to the actions of some members of the 2018 National Junior Team, or even to end the culture of toxic behavior within our sport,” Hockey Canada wrote in its three-page letter Thursday. .
“We are sincerely sorry. »
Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit in May following allegations by a woman who says she was assaulted by eight players, including members of the 2018 gold medal-winning national junior team, during a an event in London, Ontario.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Smith, then president of Hockey Canada, and outgoing chief executive Tom Renney were questioned by MPs in Ottawa about the situation last month after news broke of the alleged assault and the deal.
Unhappy with the leaders’ responses, the federal government subsequently suspended public funding for the national federation, and a number of sponsors followed suit pending next steps.
“We recognize that many of the actions we are taking today should be taken sooner, and more quickly,” the Hockey Canada letter continues. We recognize this, and we will do everything to better fulfill our responsibilities to Canadians. »
Hockey Canada has clarified that 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.
He will also carry out a full third-party governance review of the organization and pledges to become a full signatory to the Office of the Commissioner for Integrity in Sport (BCIS), a new government agency empowered to investigate. independently on complaints of abuse and to impose sanctions.
Hockey Canada announces that it will also create an “independent and confidential complaints mechanism” to provide victims and survivors with the tools and support needed to report these acts.
Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge revealed last month that federal funds will not be restored until officials produce the incomplete third-party report and become BCIS signatories.
Hockey Canada, however, did not commit to releasing the incomplete or complete report to the government in its letter Thursday.
“We hear from the public, the players, their families, the supporters, our sponsors and the people supported by what happened in 2018,” writes the organization.
Hockey Canada clarified that once its investigation is completed by the same Toronto law firm hired in 2018, it will be assigned “to an independent arbitration tribunal of current and former judges, who will determine the consequences could include lifetime exclusion from Hockey Canada activities, on and off the ice. »
The alleged victim of the assault was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and Players Anonymous.
Hockey Canada said the woman refused to speak to both London police — police closed their investigation in February 2019 — and her law firm.
Hockey Canada added that the woman decided not to identify the players.
“We salute the courage of the young woman involved and respect her decision to participate in the investigation in the way she wishes,” continued Hockey Canada.
Details of the settlement have not been made public, but Smith told the Canadian Heritage standing committee provided in June that Hockey Canada had the funds and paid the full amount, adding that no government money had been used.
St-Onge ordered an audit to make sure that was the case.
The committee is scheduled to meet on July 26 and 27 to hear from other witnesses. He also requested a redacted copy of the nondisclosure agreement related to the settlement as well as a long list of communications from Hockey Canada.
The NHL is also investigating, as some of the team’s players are now playing in the league.
St-Onge said she only learned of the incident and the settlement during a call with Renney a few days before the story was revealed by TSN. Hockey Canada said it informed Sport Canada of the situation in June 2018.
The federation added that it will publish a detailed “action plan” “outlining a multitude of measures taken within our organization, as well as with our partners and stakeholders, to improve the culture of our sport.
“We realize this change doesn’t happen overnight,” Hockey Canada said.
“But we have every intention of learning and working with our partners to improve. »
Scotiabank, Telus, Tim Hortons and Imperial Oil, under its Esso brand, are the companies that have suspended or withdrawn their funding to Hockey Canada or specific events.
Hockey Canada received $14 million from Ottawa in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in COVID-19 grants, government records show.
Smith said last month that Hockey Canada has reported three sexual assault complaints in recent years, including the London incident, but declined to discuss the other two before the committee last month. He added that there have been up to two sexual misconduct complaints in each of the past five or six years.
“The message from the public is very clear: you expect our national sport and the people who represent it to work hard to earn your trust every day. We have heard you, and we are determined to make the changes necessary to enable us to be an organization that lives up to your expectations and to restore your confidence in us,” concluded the letter from Hockey Canada.