Disclaimer: This story contains details of sexual assault which may be difficult 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 $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*|
Players with an asterisk denote those who have come out saying that they were not involved in the incident.
Both Foote and Gadjovich have come out through their agents to say that they had no involvement in the events that night. Victor Mete also announced that he was not at the event, but was instead on vacation with his family. He was in the NHL with Montreal at that point, although he did play in the CHL previously.
Since then, a number of other players have come forward saying they were not involved. Dube’s agent Dave Cowan noted that he was not involved. Scott Fenton, the agent for Hart, Clague, Bean, Kyrou, Raddysh, and netminder Colton Point (who was not in the CHL) noted the same. Both agents were clear that any attempt to associate them with this incident would be, “materially false… constituting defamation causing serious financial and reputational harm”.
Robert Thomas also came out individually on Twitter to say that he had no part in the alleged incident. Steel’s agent put out a statement articulating the same, while Timmins released a statement through his agency. Steenbergen and Comtois have done the same through social media.
Only Katchouk, Formenton, Batherson, and McLeod have yet to say anything publically 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 recently retired 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.
What has happened since?
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 (OSIC), 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.
Things then went from bad to worse for Hockey Canada. Numerous major sponsors of the organization and the upcoming World Juniors announced they would pause their sponsorship of the organization. This includes the Bank of Nova Scotia, Telus, BDO, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, and others. Instead, these organizations announced they would redirect the funding to other organizations, particularly those helping women who have been victims of abuse.
On July 14, Hockey Canada released a press release entitled An Open Letter to Canadians in which it apologized for not doing more to address the “culture of toxic behaviour within our game.” They announced the following steps to address the assault allegations.
First, they would reopen the investigation into the events of June 18, 2018 using a third-party organization. While they did not announce whether that organization would be Henein Hutchison LLP, they did say that all players would be required to participate. Any player who chose not to participate would receive a lifetime ban from all Hockey Canada activities.
The individual who was allegedly assaulted by the eight CHL players will participate in the investigation as well. She has declined to speak to media but has made this announcement through her lawyer. Lawyers for the players also announced that their clients would participate in the investigation. This will help ensure all voices are heard.
Hockey Canada will also require all high-level players, coaches, and staff to participate in sexual violence and consent training, and will be building out a series of topics to train their players on as part of their time with Hockey Canada.
Furthermore, Hockey Canada will retain a third-party consultant to conduct a full-scale examination of the organization’s governance, and provide recommendations to help better its scope as a national institution.
The organization will also sign on to the OSIC, as required by the government in order to receive their funding. They will also create an independent mechanism for victims to come forward and for those issues to be investigated in an independent way.
Hockey Canada will also release an action plan to outline more specifics on the changes they will be making to the organization, and how these items will go from idea to implementation. This is expected to come out shortly.
What this looks like and how it will be implemented is anyone’s guess, but the key to all of this is that the organization takes a hard look at the culture of hockey and its own organizational structure to ensure that issues like this do not ever happen again.
However, this story continues to get worse. The Globe and Mail broke a story that one member of the alleged assault exchanged messages with the victim asking if she had gone to the police. They went further to ask the victim to try and get this all to go away, saying, “You need to talk to your mother right now and straighten things out with the police before this goes too far. This is a serious matter that she is misrepresenting and could have significant implications for a lot of people including you”.
This is obviously a major release, and points to some of the facts that the defendant made, particularly that she was under pressure to not report this to the police nor to cooperate with any investigation.
The Globe then broke a subsequent story that Hockey Canada keeps a separate reserve fund to cover uninsured liabilities including sexual assault allegations. This fund, known internally as the National Equity Fund, is held separately from the organization’s operating funds and is made up of money collected from registration fees from players across the country. As of 2016, there was over 15 million dollars in the fund.
This money can be used at Hockey Canada’s discretion, but little information has been released as to how much of it has been used for what. Given the organization noted in its testimony to the Federal Government in June that it has received one to two sexual assault allegations a year for the last five to six years, the amount of money that could have been used to settle these claims could be much larger than what is being discussed now.
Hockey Canada has since announced that they will no longer use the National Equity Fund to settle sexual assault claims. They said that previously 98% of the money was used for “safety, wellness, and equity initiatives as well as insurance” and now it will be used 100% for this. They went further to say that they will act on any additional recommendations that come out of the governance review.
This story continues to get national media attention. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about this story earlier this week, saying, “I think right now it’s hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada. What we’re learning today is absolutely unacceptable.” He went on to say that the government would investigate this matter further in the coming days.
The federal government is continuing with hearings on this matter next week. Tuesday July 26th, Danielle Robataille, Partner at Heinen Hutchinson LLP who conducted the initial investigation will testify before the committee. She will be joined by Michel Ruest, an executive with Sports Canada and Pascale St-Onge, Canada’s Minister for Sport.
They will continue Wednesday July 27th with Hockey Canada’s executive team. This includes Scott Smith, the President, Tom Renney, the former CEO, and Dave Andrews, the Chair of the Hockey Canada Foundation. The Commissioners of the three CHL Leagues, Gilles Courteau (QMJHL), David Branch (OHL), and Ron Robison (WHL), will also be questioned that day.
Two other names will also be called Wednesday. Barry Lorenzetti, the President and CEO of BFL Canada, will be put before the committee. BFL is a major insurance company, and the insurer for Hockey Canada. Glen McCurdie, the former VP of Insurance and Risk Management will also be questioned.
On July 20th, London’s Chief of Police opened a subsequent review into the handling of the investigation in 2018 and whether it was handled appropriately. This was likely prompted by the ongoing media coverage surrounding the case.
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.