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OTTAWA — The House of Commons unanimously passed a motion on Wednesday to ask for an independent investigation into Hockey Canada’s handling of the June 2018 sexual assault allegations.
As presented by Bloc Quebecois MP Sébastien Lemire during Question Period, the investigation would examine Hockey Canada’s management of the claims, which came to light last month, and, as he said in French, “figure out if this was an isolated event or if there are shortcomings in the way that Hockey Canada handles reported complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other types of misconduct.”
The passing of the motion came shortly before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which heard Hockey Canada witnesses testify on Monday, held a two-hour-and-36-minute closed-doors meeting about the claims, presumably to plan next steps in its investigation. MPs leaving the meeting would not comment on what happened during the meeting, but next steps could be learned as early as Thursday morning.
“This is part of the fallout of what was a deplorable lack of transparency from Hockey Canada when they appeared before the Heritage committee on Monday, (where) the questions asked were very clear,” committee member and NDP MP Peter Julian told Sportsnet Wednesday after the Heritage committee’s closed meeting. “We found out on Monday that there are a number of other investigations that Hockey Canada is currently doing.
“But it was Hockey Canada’s response to what are claims of a terrible, terrible violent crime, and for Hockey Canada to simply say that in the investigation they did, that it wasn’t obligatory for cooperation from each of the players that were on that team. When we think about the horrific allegations of sexual violence, I think it didn’t convince a single member of the committee, and certainly didn’t convince any members of the Canadian public, that Hockey Canada takes this violence seriously.”
Hockey Canada has been under scrutiny since late May when news emerged that they settled a lawsuit involving a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by eight Canadian Hockey League players. In the lawsuit, which was filed April 20 in Ontario Superior Court in London, Ont., the woman says at least some of the players were part of the Canadian national junior team, and the assault happened in June 2018 after a Hockey Canada Foundation event .
She has not identified the players, and wishes to keep her own identity private. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
This latest development comes shortly after Pascale St-Onge, Canada’s Minister of Sport, announced earlier on Wednesday the immediate freezing of government funding to Hockey Canada.
“What is it disturbing about all of this is that we have apparently two other investigations that Hockey Canada has launched,” Julian told Sportsnet. “Hockey Canada officials admitted to one to two complaints, so one can only assume because they weren’t forthcoming with details that we may be talking about other complaints of sexual violence a year over the last six years. That could be up to a dozen So, there is a disturbing lack of taking these important claims seriously. And I think this the government to act.
St-Onge said the funds will be released when Hockey Canada meets two conditions: shares its report conducted by third-party investigators at Henein and Hutchison and its plans to implement changes; and become signatories to the office of the sports integrity commissioner. When contacted by Sportsnet, Hockey Canada did not comment on the freeze.
If the conditions are not met, changes could be afoot at Hockey Canada. Julian said those changes would come through the influence of Parliament.
“The Heritage Committee has the power to subpoena and the power to demand documents, and also the power to ensure that Canadians are getting answers,” Julian said. “The federal government though, through its funding mechanism, does have a lot of influence. And the reality is … this must be a wake-up call for Hockey Canada that … this will also lead to significant demands for change, even from within Hockey Canada.”
Responding to a question from Sportsnet After Wednesday’s Question Period, St-Onge would not provide a deadline for Hockey Canada to meet the two conditions in order to have funding restored, only that the conditions are “really realistic, and if they want federal funding, they need to comply.”
St-Onge’s announcement was accompanied by a statement in which she called Hockey Canada’s actions in the wake of the claims “deeply troubling” and “unacceptable.”
“Today, the House sent a very strong message to Hockey Canada saying that their testimony on Monday was insufficient as well as was the management of the cases that were brought up in the media a few weeks ago,” she told reporters after Question Period. “I want to thank my colleagues for working on this issue in a non-partisan way so we can send a very strong message that the culture of silence needs to end and we need to stand-up against sexual violence.”
Government funding accounts for six per cent of Hockey Canada’s yearly budget, which amounts to about $7.8 million annually.