Sports minister freezes government funding for Hockey Canada following sexual assault settlement
The federal government notified Hockey Canada.
Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge announced on Wednesday that the organization’s access to public funds has been frozen, effective immediately, due to its response to an alleged sexual assault and a settlement at the later amicable.
The move comes after Hockey Canada President Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney were questioned by MPs earlier this week during a hearing of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
“We were all waiting for answers to all the questions, the many questions we have about how they handled the whole situation when they testified,” St-Onge told reporters in Ottawa. “Unfortunately, we haven’t received many responses.
St-Onge said Hockey Canada would only get its funding after disclosing the recommendations contained in an incomplete report from a third-party law firm hired to investigate the alleged incident four years ago.
Hockey Canada must also become a signatory to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, a new government body with the power to independently investigate complaints of abuse and impose penalties.
“With the story itself being completely horrific and the entire handling of this situation being totally inappropriate, I have decided to hold all future public funding until they meet two very simple, but important conditions” , said St-Onge.
WATCH | Hockey Canada denies public funds used to settle sexual assault allegations:
Later Wednesday, the House of Commons unanimously approved a motion by Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire to conduct an independent investigation into Hockey Canada’s handling of the allegations.
“[The aim is] to determine if this was an isolated event or if there are gaps in the way Hockey Canada handles complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other types of misconduct,” said Lemire in French.
Federal money represents 6% of Hockey Canada’s coffers, according to the organization’s figures, after business development and partnerships (43%), funding bodies (14%), insurance premiums (13 %) and interest income (10% cent).
St-Onge was asked if the government would require Hockey Canada to repay some of its federal funding for the past four years.
Hockey Canada quietly settled the lawsuit last month after a woman claimed she was assaulted by members of the 2018 gold medal-winning World Junior Hockey team in June of that year at a gala and an evening of golf in London, Ontario.
The woman, now 24, was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and Players Anonymous. Details of the settlement were not made public, but Smith said Monday that no government or insurance money was used.
St-Onge said she only learned of the allegations and the settlement two days before TSN ran the story late last month after receiving a phone call from Renney. Hockey Canada said it informed Sport Canada of the situation in June 2018.
A Hockey Canada spokeswoman did not respond to an email request for comment Wednesday.
Criminal investigation closed in 2019
Hockey Canada hired Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to conduct its investigation, but Smith and Renney told MPs that while players at the event in London were ‘strongly encouraged’ to participate, it was not not mandatory.
That left MPs stunned at Monday’s committee meeting.
Renney initially testified that between four and six of the 19 players in question spoke to investigators before Smith later said the number was 12 or 13.
Hockey Canada has repeatedly said the woman has decided not to speak to police or their investigators. Smith and Renney reiterated on Monday that the woman also chose not to identify the players.
Officials added that Hockey Canada still does not know the identity of the eight players in question.
Smith said London police informed Hockey Canada that their criminal investigation was closed in February 2019. The independent investigation concluded in September 2020, but Renney said the report was incomplete and should not be released.
“We don’t have much more to offer in terms of information along those lines,” he said on Monday.
“Hockey Canada said it would not share with the committee the advice it received from the independent firm…or how it intends to respond to it,” St-Onge said in a statement Wednesday. “We have also heard that the independent investigation has not been completed and John Doe’s eight players have not been identified.
“This is unacceptable.”
The NHL, which also only recently learned of the allegations, is conducting its own investigation as some of the players in question are now in the league.
Smith said Hockey Canada has reported three sexual assault complaints in recent years, including the London incident, but would not discuss the other two before the committee.
“I can’t comment on the level of investigation,” Smith said, adding that there have been one to two complaints of sexual misconduct each for the past five or six years.
Not good enough, according to St-Onge.
“I cannot accept this standard as if nothing has happened in our national sports organizations,” she said in her statement.
“And neither should Canadians.”