University of Ottawa suspends hockey team amid sexual assault investigation

The lesson of college hockey legend Jack Parker's messy departure from Boston University is that being less than forthcoming, or maintaining innocence about a serious situation involving student-athletes, doesn't help the situation.

On Monday, the University of Ottawa suspended the Gee-Gees men's hockey team after it became aware that Thunder Bay, Ont., police are investigating multiple members of the team for alleged sexual assault of a Lakehead University student during a two-game series at the beginning of February. In time, the facts of the case will be established. In the interim, the university is stating that it only learned of the legal matter one week ago through "a third party." That would justify the collective punishment for the team, which is coached by long-time Quebec League boss Réal Paiement.

The school reported the incident to police the day after being made aware of the allegations and said it would co-operate fully with any police investigation. Thunder Bay police’s sexual assault unit is leading the investigation.

Ottawa police say they are aware of the incident but have not been asked to assist Thunder Bay police with the investigation.

The school also said it is also conducting its own review, but has suspended all men’s varsity hockey play in the interim.

“The incident occurred several weeks ago. The university is deeply concerned that senior management was only informed about these allegations on February 24, and then by a third party. This will be among the matters examined in the review,” according to the statement. (Ottawa Citizen)

The timeline is not yet clear. The Gee-Gees' two-game series against the Lakehead Thunderwolves, where the alleged incident occurred, took place on the third-last weekend of the Ontario University Athletics regular season. It's not known when the team members learned that Thunder Bay police had received the complaint and began an investigation. Or what the coaches knew.

That third-party report to the university came three days after the Gee-Gees season wrapped up with a playoff loss to Queen's.

[Daily Brew: Is there a 'rape culture' on Canadian university campuses?]

It's not academic that the team was suspended after its season ended. The sports teams are, contrary to the behaviour of some coaches, part of a social contract with the university. This might speak to the cavalier attitude about rape that is persists in some circles. It's also, not that this is more important than the well-being of the woman and the right to a fair trial, especially poor timing for the university. Just a few days ago, student politicians resigned after being caught making lewd, misogynist comments online about the student federation president, 24-year-old Anne-Marie Roy.

From a hockey perspective, it could also mean limits on recruiting. March and April is when university coaches begin to make contact with graduating juniors about going to school.

It is a stretch to say that related story, so-called, led to the hockey team becoming scapegoated. Regardless, so long as there is the appearance that team members allegedly covered up a misdeed, everyone has to face consequences.

It would be cheap to draw a direct line to Boston University. A NCAA Division I team is big business and a CIS squad is much closer to true university sport. But uOttawa realizes a principle has to be upheld. Being part of a team is not a right, in or out of season.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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