Hockey Canada is skating on thin ice when it comes to public trust in their promises to fix the culture of sexual abuse and harassment in the sport, new survey data suggests.
Fifty-eight per cent of respondents told the Angus Reid Institute in an online survey released Wednesday morning that they do not have confidence in the beleaguered organization’s action plan to improve the culture within hockey, including how people within the sport treat women and girls.
Women showed the sharpest degree of skepticism, with 62 per cent of respondents saying they are not confident in the plan laid out by Hockey Canada. Fifty-three per cent of men said the same.
“That is a significant amount of skepticism. So if anything, Hockey Canada is not only sitting at the top of a culture problem. It may also be sitting at the top of a pretty significant trust problem,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, in an interview with Global News.
The online survey between Aug. 8 and Aug. 10 asked a representative, randomized sample of 2,279 Canadian adults about their views of the culture in hockey and Hockey Canada’s reaction to allegations of sexual assault made against some of their players.
While online surveys can’t accurately be assigned a margin of error, the margin for a comparatively sized poll would be plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20, the Angus Reid Institute said.
The responses come as Hockey Canada remains embroiled in a national scandal over its handling of separate sexual assault allegations against some of its players, including members of the 2003 and 2018 World Juniors championship teams. In the latter matter, the organization settled a civil lawsuit alleging sexual assault by eight players against a young woman in London, Ont.
TSN first reported on the settlement in May.
In the months since, Hockey Canada has been engulfed in scrutiny: three parliamentary committee meetings focusing on the matter, a funding freeze ordered by the federal sports minister, a financial audit, a renewed criminal investigation by police in London, Ont., and an NHL probe.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is also among the growing number of official bodies investigating Hockey Canada over its handling of sexual assault allegations.
Hockey Canada has lost multiple major sponsors for the World Juniors tournament including Tim Hortons, Telus, Canadian Tire and Scotiabank, and faced a revolt from provincial hockey organizations vowing to withhold funding. The chair of the board of directors is gone — though the president, Scott Smith, remains.
Former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell is leading a governance review due in November.
Whether Smith will remain in the role after that review remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, Canadian parents are furious, particularly over the revelations of a slush fund used to pay out sexual assault claimants using registration fees paid by parents for their children to play what Stompin’ Tom Connors once called “the good ol’ hockey game.”
Of those who participated in the survey, 56 per cent described themselves as having a connection to youth hockey: for example, playing in youth hockey personally, having a family member who did so, or going to watch youth hockey as an extended family member of a player.
Clear majorities of respondents both inside and outside of the world of youth hockey described sexual harassment and sexual assault in the sport as a “major issue — something that happens all the time.”
However, the degree to which respondents rated the prevalence of the issue showed a range of views including among the spectrum of political views, with 42 per cent of individuals who said they voted Conservative in the last election describing it as a major issue, compared to 69 per cent of Liberals, 72 per cent of NDP voters, and 70 per cent of Bloc Quebecois supporters.
Sixty-one per cent of respondents with no connection to youth hockey and fifty-six per cent of respondents with a connection to youth hockey agreed sexual harassment and sexual assault in the sport is a major issue.
Among those with a connection to the sport, 73 per cent for women over the age of 55 agreed it is a major issue. Sixty-three per cent of women aged 35 to 54 and 53 per cent for women aged 18-34 said the same. Forty-two per cent of men between the ages of 18 and 34 said sexual harassment and sexual assault is a major issue in youth hockey, compared to 46 per cent of men ages 35 to 54, and 59 per cent of those over the age of 55.
The fact that majorities of respondents both with and without a personal connection to youth hockey see sexual harassment and sexual abuse as serious problems is unusual, Kurl suggested.
“That is something that really stands out because sometimes, you can have situations where people closer to that world have a very different view point on it. That happens all the time,” she said.
“This is an issue that transcends proximity to youth hockey.”
Sixty-three per cent of all respondents said clearly that Hockey Canada needs new senior leadership.
At the same time, 84 per cent of respondents also noted that sexual harassment and sexual assault is a broader issue that needs to be dealt with in sports culture, not just in hockey.
The latter point appears to echo concerns raised to Global News earlier this month by Brenda Andress, who spent 12 years as the commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
“Being in the sports world as long as I have been, there is a code of silence. There’s a culture that we have created, and I think most of us can’t handle the truth that’s out there — that’s really going on in our sports world,” Andress said.
“It’s time that we take a look at it in a lot deeper avenue than we’re currently doing.”