Hockey Canada took a “step in the right direction” Wednesday by announcing it would no longer use a reserve fund to settle sexual assault claims, but it needs to do more to regain Canadians’ trust, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
Hockey Canada’s “National Equity Fund” came to light earlier this week as the sport’s national body finds itself embroiled in a controversy over its handling of an alleged 2018 sexual assault in London, Ont., involving eight unnamed players on Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team.
Hockey Canada had a fund, which was maintained by membership fees collected across the country, to pay for any “uninsured liabilities as they arise,” including “potential claims for historical sexual abuse,” said Glen McCurdie, Hockey Canada’s former vice-president of insurance and risk management, in a July 2021 sworn affidavit in response to a lawsuit launched by an injured player in Ontario.
Its secretive nature sparked outrage from many, including Trudeau on Wednesday who called the news “unacceptable.” Later in the day, Hockey Canada said effective immediately, the fund “will be exclusively dedicated towards safety, wellness and equity initiatives, as well as insurance across our organization — activities which comprised 98 per cent of its resources between 2014 and 2021.”
“I think obviously it’s a step in the right direction, but Hockey Canada needs to do an awful lot as an organization to gain back the trust of Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters in Halifax on Thursday.
“Their behaviour over these past years, and indeed over these past months, has been not worthy of an organization that embodies so many hopes and dreams for young Canadians, boys and girls, for sport, for healthy living, for so many parents (who) entrust their kids to this organization and organizations that flow from that.”
Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since May, when TSN first reported news of an alleged sexual assault of a woman following a 2018 gala in London, Ont., involving eight unidentified players of that year’s world junior team and subsequent settlement.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Hockey Canada has since seen its federal funding cut off, corporate sponsors pause financial support and investigations into the incident reopened.
On Wednesday, authorities in London ordered an internal review of their investigation into the 2018 alleged sexual assault. London police are looking to determine if any “additional investigative avenues may exist,” said Police Chief Steve Williams said in a statement.
Hockey Canada last week said it was reopening an independent investigation into the alleged incident, after the organization’s president and COO Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney told the parliamentary committee on Canadian heritage last month that players from the team were encouraged — but not required — to cooperate with investigators.
Smith testified “12 or 13” of the 19 players at the gala were interviewed before the original and incomplete investigation concluded in September 2020. That came after an earlier statement from Renney that only four to six players cooperated.
Following that testimony, Global News reached out to the agents for all players on the 2018 Hockey Canada roster, asking whether each player had participated in the independent probe, and whether they were involved in the alleged sexual assault. A number of players have since released public statements denying their involvement.
Hockey Canada said last Thursday it will be mandatory for all players to participate in the reopened investigation, adding anyone who declines will be banned from all of the federation’s activities and programs effective immediately.
A lawyer for the woman who made the assault allegation told Global News in an email last week his client, who did not take part in the initial probe or speak with police, “will be participating in the Hockey Canada investigation and will not be commenting to media at this time.”
The Canadian heritage committee will hear from Hockey Canada officials again next Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We need to see Hockey Canada demonstrating a level of transparency, accountability (and) understanding of the situation they’re faced with,” Trudeau said in Halifax Thursday.
“There needs to be a real reckoning with the kind of behaviour we saw from that organization and the willful blindness to something that other organizations have been faced with, struggled with, but made good decisions around as opposed to what Hockey Canada has been doing.
“There’s a lot more that Hockey Canada is going to have to do before Canadian parents, like me, can start trusting them.”