Michel Saba and Emilie Bergeron, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday unanimously called for an independent inquiry into Hockey Canada’s handling of an alleged gang rape case hours after Ottawa announced it was freezing funding for the organization.
A motion presented by Bloc Québécois Sébastien Lemire was adopted by unanimous consent between the parties.
The text of the motion also specifies that the investigation should determine “whether this was an isolated event or whether there are shortcomings in the way Hockey Canada deals with complaints of sexual assault, harassment sexual and other types of misconduct reported to him”.
“What Hockey Canada has done to trivialize what happened is completely unacceptable. (…) What we heard is that in particular it was voluntary on the part of the players to participate or not” in the survey, commented Mr. Lemire after the question period.
Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said work is underway to determine “the right process to proceed and enforce the motion.”
It was recently revealed that Hockey Canada has reached an out-of-court settlement with an alleged victim of sexual assault by eight Canadian Hockey League junior players.
In court documents, the young woman alleges that the events occurred in a hotel room after a Hockey Canada gala in June 2018, in London, Ontario.
Earlier in the afternoon, during another press scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons, Minister St-Onge described the testimonies delivered Monday by leaders of the organization in parliamentary committee as “extremely disturbing “and worrying”.
She explained that Hockey Canada will only see its funding reinstated once it meets two conditions.
The first is to forward to Sport Canada the report of the law firm hired to investigate the alleged incident and a plan that details the comment will be implemented within the organization.
The second is to join the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner and work “closely to change the culture of silence and (…) combat sexual violence within the organization”.
Currently, the organization’s leadership is “deficient, inappropriate, from another era,” she summed up.
Monday evening, following the comparison of the senior leaders of the organization, Ms. St-Onge argued that “we are facing an organization that perpetuates the culture of silence”.
At the time, she declined to say whether she intended to withhold public funds or if heads would roll until she received the findings of the financial audit she commissioned.
Conservative sports critic Richard Martel said he is also “extremely concerned” about the way Hockey Canada handles complaints of sexual assault. “It was not at all successful,” he said.
“I also wonder about the senior executives of Hockey Canada because it is a really worrying situation especially when we know that they select the best players of each team, very often the captains who (…) would be supposed to have leadership, discipline and responsibility,” he added.
Called to react, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, encouraged the work of Minister St-Onge.
“There are not many people who are awarded the merits, but I sincerely think, having seen several interventions by Ms. St-Onge (…) that she is directed towards the right decisions”, he said. .
Mr. Blanchet added that the population must know what happened and accused Hockey Canada officials of having given Monday “an embarrassing public relations show” which showed “a serious lack of respect for parliamentarians”.
NDP MP Peter Julian for his part showed that Hockey Canada has not put in place the necessary to hold an investigation that goes “to the bottom of things”.
During the comparison before the Heritage Standing Committee, the organization’s CEO, Tom Renney, assured that Hockey Canada did not attempt to “sweep under the rug” the story with a cover-up.
Several MPs reacted strongly when they learned that it was optional for players of the 2018 national junior team who were allegedly involved in a gang rape case to participate in the investigation into the events.
Hockey Canada received $14 million from Ottawa in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in grants related to COVID-19, according to government documents obtained by CBC and TSN.