Federal government freezing Hockey Canada’s funding

The Canadian government is freezing Hockey Canada’s millions of dollars in federal funding until the organization signs up with a new federal agency that has the power to independently receive and investigate abuse complaints and issue sanctions for inappropriate behaviour, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said in an interview on Wednesday.

St-Onge announced the freeze two days after Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and outgoing chief executive Tom Renney testedified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage about claims made by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight Canadian Hockey players in 2018, at least some of whom played for Canada’s 2018 World Juniors team.

“This is about changing a deeply entrenched culture, it’s not about simple Band-Aid solutions,” St-Onge said.

The woman, who was not identified in court records, alleged players repeatedly sexually assaulted her in a London hotel room following a Hockey Canada golf tournament and gala event in June, 2018.

Smith testified that after a $3.55 million lawsuit was launched in April against Hockey Canada, the national governing body liquidated some of its investments and settled the litigation within weeks.

Hockey Canada received $14 million from the federal government in 2020 and 2021, government records show, including $3.4 million in emergency COVID-19 subsidies.

St-Onge said that Hockey Canada must also become a signatory to the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which began accepting abuse complaints related to Canada’s national sports teams two days ago on June 20.

“I am going to use all the tools at my disposal to make sure that people are held accountable for what’s happening in hockey,” St-Onge said.

To receive more funding, St-Onge said Hockey Canada must also publicly disclose the recommendations it received abuse from Henein Hutchison LLP, a Toronto law firm hired by Hockey Canada to investigate the sexual allegations.

Hockey Canada will also be required to detail its plans to implement change within the organization, St-Onge said.

A Hockey Canada spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

St-Onge said that Hockey Canada must also become a signatory to the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS) before its public funding is restored. By signing that code of conduct, Hockey Canada would relinquish control of abuse investigations to the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which began accepting abuse complaints related to Canada’s national sports teams two days ago on June 20.

Sarah-Eve Pelletier, a former member of Canada’s national artistic swimming team, has been hired as the office’s first commissioner.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is also scheduled to meet in private in Ottawa Wednesday afternoon to discuss holding additional public hearings and demanding evidence from Hockey Canada about the federation’s oversight of sexual abuse complaints and investigations.

Hockey Canada is the first item on the standing committee’s agenda today, a source told TSN.

“There is no doubt that we will be continuing with this study of Hockey Canada and likely having more hearings,” said Peter Julian, a committee member and New Democratic Party MP representing New Westminster-Burnaby.

“The question is when to do them. We want hearings to have a watershed impact and for Canadians to be engaged and interested and to watch. That may mean having more hearings in early fall.”

Smith and Renney testified that players who attended the London gala were “strongly encouraged” but not required to cooperate with Henein Hutchison’s investigation. They said that neither the London police nor Henein Hutchison were able to identify the players who were allegedly involved in the incident.

During their discussion on Monday, Smith declined to two other sexual assault complaints that are currently being investigated by Hockey Canada and testified that the federation receives two or three sexual assault complaints per year.

“That was the most disturbing revelation that we heard – that Hockey Canada has cases like this at a rate of one or two per year,” St-Onge said. “To me, this cannot be a standard business as usual for Hockey Canada, one of the most powerful sports organizations in Canada. That culture cannot be protected.”

Julian said that he wants more information about Hockey Canada’s ongoing investigations.

“[Smith] was unwilling to provide even a modicum of details around the investigations that are currently happening,” he said. “We still have more questions than the answers and the answers we got on Monday were disturbing. I want an answer to what is being investigated now and to know who is doing the investigations.”

If Henein Hutchison has been hired by Hockey Canada to investigate other claims, the committee may decide to ask the law firm’s contempt to testify, Julian said.

John Nater, a Conservative MP representing Perth-Wellington, said that Smith and Renney did not provide clarity about how many of the 2018 World Juniors team players who attended the London golf event were interviewed by Henein Hutchison investigators.

Renney testedified that events such as the golf tournament and gala are a “blurred” area for the federation’s code of conduct because they are not on-ice activities. While Renney testedified that four to six players were questioned by the Toronto law firm, Smith later testified that 12 or 13 players, in fact, had been interviewed.

“This was disrespectful to the committee,” Nater said in an interview. “This is a multi-million-dollar organization. They have a significant number of staff on their payroll, and the fact they didn’t know how many players cooperated with the investigation, didn’t have that information at their fingertips, it was ridiculous.”

Renney testified Monday that Henein Hutchison never delivered Hockey Canada a complete report and said that being forced to disclose an “incomplete report” would be a mistake.

Nater said the standing committee should compel the production of the Henein Hutchison report as well as settlement agreements signed by Hockey Canada related to all abuse complaints.

“We need to see that report and these agreements,” Nater said.

The standing committee should have more details about the terms of the non-disclosure agreement signed by the alleged abuse survivor in the London case and other hockey abuse cases, he said.

“If this is a situation where a non-disclosure agreement is being used to prevent a victim from speaking out, even down the road, I think that’s unacceptable,” Nater said.

Smith testified that Sport Canada was advised in 2018 about the alleged sexual assault in London. Nater said he wants more details about how government officials responded to that information.

“We were all under the assumption that the government wasn’t aware of these claims back in 2018,” Nater said. “Now it’s clear that at least a senior public servant did know. Whether that information went up to the sport minister or not is an important question. If it didn’t, then that’s a concern. And if it did, it’s a concern for different reasons.”

Several MPs said that they also want information about how many abuse complaints are received and investigated by provincial hockey federations across Canada.

Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP representing Mount Royal, said he was disappointed that Hockey Canada still has not changed its code of conduct to ensure that any Team Canada player be required to participate in investigations of alleged misconduct.

“The fact they haven’t already put measures in place is beyond me,” Housefather said. “If I were Hockey Canada’s communications department, I would be coming out with a statement very quickly about what they plan to do. I’d like to hear that they are going to re-open their investigation and come back to us and report on it once they’re done.”

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