This story contains details of sexual assault which may be hard to read for some individuals.
On May 26, Rick Westhead of TSN released a groundbreaking article that Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit from a woman who alleged that eight Canadian Hockey League players for the 2017–18 Canadian Men’s World Junior Team had sexually assaulted her.
This story gained an incredible amount of traction from the NHL, where a number of players from the team currently play, numerous media sources, as well as from the Government of Canada, who asked Hockey Canada to testify in front of the Parliamentary Subcommittee for Canadian Heritage. Because Hockey Canada is a national sports organization, it receives a percentage of its money from the Government of Canada, and the committee summoned leading members of the organization to testify to better understand the situation and whether public funds were used to pay to settle this claim.
Here is how we got to this situation, how the committee hearing went, and what happens from here
The initial details
On April 20 of this year, the victim filed a claim in the Ontario Superior Court in London claiming that she was repeatedly assaulted in a hotel room immediately following a Hockey Canada event that was held on June 18, 2018. The defendants in this case were Hockey Canada, the CHL, and eight members of the Men’s National Junior Hockey Team. The eight were not named by name, but as John Does 1 through 8.
The plaintiff asked for a $3.55 million in damages for the distress caused by the situation, but accepted a settlement three weeks later on the day the story was published. There was no comment on whether the victim had signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Because the case was settled, the allegations were never proven to be true in court. The full details of the allegations are outlined in the original article by Westhead, but they are distressing in nature.
A Hockey Canada spokesperson noted that at the time they informed London police of the allegations and hired the law firm Henein Hutchison to conduct an internal investigation. The individual in question chose not to speak with either police or the investigating law firm. London police did not comment on the matter.
The NHL subsequently came out with a statement that they were made aware of the lawsuit two days before the report by Westhead was released and said they would determine the facts and how they involve players in the NHL.
The following players were on the roster for Team Canada that season and played in the CHL:
|Jake Bean||Michael McLeod||Max Comtois||Jordan Kyrou|
|Kale Clague||Taylor Raddysh||Alex Formenton||Sam Steel|
|Dillon Dube||Conor Timmins||Brett Howden||Tyler Steenbergen|
|Carter Hart||Drake Batherson||Boris Katchouk||Robert Thomas|
|Jonah Gadjovich||Cal Foote|
Both Foote and Gadjovich have come out through their agents to say that they had no involvement in the events that night. Sixteen players have not commented to this point.
What happened in the committee hearing?
Between 2020 and 2021, Hockey Canada received $14 million in Federal funding, including $3.4 million in emergency subsidies during the pandemic. Last week the parliamentary subcommittee on Canadian heritage voted to invite members of Hockey Canada to testify before the committee to ascertain whether public money was used in the settlement of the lawsuit. Separately, Canada’s Minister for Sport also ordered an audit of Hockey Canada’s books to determine the same.
The committee convened on June 20 to hear testimony from Scott Smith, President of Hockey Canada, Tom Renney, the CEO of Hockey Canada, and Dave Andrews, the Chair of the Hockey Canada Foundation. Here is what came out.
Timeline of who had information
Hockey Canada’s President, Smith, became aware of the allegations in the evening of June 19 while Board Chair Andrews was informed a week or ten days subsequently. Sport Canada, the Branch of the Committee for Canadian Heritage that oversees Hockey Canada was told on June 26.
They were later notified by London Police that the criminal investigation into the matter was closed in February of 2019 as the individual who made the allegations would not disclose information to the investigators.
Hockey Canada opened the Henein Hutchison investigation quickly after learning about the investigation, however players were not required to participate—all players were only recommended to participate. Initially Renney noted that four to six players participated but then Smith noted that he was “fairly confident” that 12 to 13 of the 19 players participated.
Smith noted that neither the investigation nor the police were able to confirm the identity of the John Does.
Hockey Canada never received a complete report from Henein Hutchison, and the investigation was closed in September of 2020. The information in the report was never disclosed.
The one note that did come out of the report was that Hockey Canada was advised that they were not able to sanction players as there was no due process to that point. Smith noted that if more information did come forward, that may change whether players were sanctioned.
The committee had a number of questions around the settlement and whether public money was used to pay for the settlement. Hockey Canada noted that they liquidated a portion of their investments to cover this payment and that no portion of the money used was government funds.
However, the big question remains as to why the lawsuit was settled after three weeks despite the lack of information. There was not a clear answer provided. The information in the settlement is covered under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Other notes from committee members
The committee members had a number of very strong opinions on how this session went. Both NDP MP Peter Julian and Conservative MP John Nater noted the contradiction between Hockey Canada’s zero-tolerance policy for violations of their code of conduct but then did not compel players to participate in the investigation.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather noted that the Chicago Blackhawks released their report into the Kyle Beach situation and asked why Hockey Canada could not do the same in this case.
Perhaps the most damning moment to come out of the entire session was when Housefather asked how many allegations of sexual abuse Hockey Canada has received in the last decade, and Smith responded that they have received an average of one to two cases per year over the last five or six years. Best case scenario, there are four other allegations that have not been reported. Worst case, there are many, many more.
Where does Hockey Canada go from here?
It was announced on June 22 that Hockey Canada’s federal funding would be frozen until it met certain conditions. One is that the organization must become a signatory to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which is responsible for investigating complaints of abuse on Canada’s national teams.
It also must become a signatory to the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport, giving control to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commission to investigate abuse allegations.
Furthermore, Hockey Canada must also publicly disclose the recommendations from the Henein Hutchison report and detail plans on how it will change its organization in response to this situation.
The House of Commons is set to rise on June 23, and is not expected back until the third week of September. This means that Hockey Canada will have a bit of a break from the public scrutiny it is currently receiving from Parliament, but because the government has elected to block their funding, they will need to address the aforementioned conditions quickly in order to continue to operate.
Hockey Canada is set to host the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton and Red Deer this August, and undoubtedly this story will cast a dark shadow over the tournament. With the NHL currently investigating these allegations and the enormous media spotlight on this story, do not expect this one to just go away quietly. There are still numerous unanswered questions that Hockey Canada will no doubt be compelled to answer.