A cover-up is often worse than an alleged crime. That might not be literally true when the allegations concern accusations as serious as sexual assault, but at the end of the day, that is why there is no realistic way that the University of Ottawa could go forward with icing a men's hockey team in the Ontario University Athletics conference this season.
The Gee-Gees men's hockey program was initially suspended on March 3, one week after uOttawa administrators were told about a Thunder Bay, Ont., police investigation into an incident involving three players and a young woman that happened on Feb. 1. (They learned of it from "a friend of the victim.") On Wednesday, the university stated that coach Réal Paiement did not properly follow the chain of command in reporting it to superiors. As a result, Paiement has been fired and the program's suspension has been extended throughout the entire 2014-15 season. Not unlike the University of Waterloo football players whose 2010 season due to an uproar over players being busted for illegally selling steroids, Gee-Gees players are contemplating legal action.
From Michael Woods (@michaelrwoods):
Rock said that head coach Réal Paiement’s response to the alleged incident “did not meet university expectations” because he failed to report the allegations to the university.Rock said the coach learned of the allegations within hours and took his own disciplinary action, but didn’t inform university authorities.
Several University of Ottawa hockey players have retained a lawyer and are threatening to sue.
Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the university and its president have defamed, punished and even ended the careers of some 'innocent' players who have done absolutely nothing wrong.
"You've got a team of 24 players. My information is that, at the absolute most, there were three that are alleged to have been involved in misconduct," Greenspon said. (Ottawa Citizen)
Rock, a former federal cabinet minister, employed some interesting semantics during a news conference, stating: "We're suspending the program, not the team." That should make it clear where the burden lies: on the authority figures who, in the milieu of a university, went rogue. It also arguably makes it harder for the players to seek redress since they haven't been suspended; their program has just ceased to be for a while.
No charges have been laid, but uOttawa is reacting to how this was handled and not what might/might not be established by a police investigation. Anyone who thinks there needs to be a conviction in order to justify the suspension is missing the point. It's about accountability; it's on coaches to show it doesn't put players being named in a sexual assault complaint on the same level with, say, missing practice. That is how it looks with Paiement, a former national junior team coach, trying to discipline players internally.
Moreover, uOttawa is obligated first and foremost to helping its entire student population feel safe. Continuing to ice a men's hockey team would send the wrong message. It's also worth wondering, with the program having been suspended, how it was possibly able to recruit and retain players for this season.
I am no Lawrence Greenspon, but the affected players might not have much to stand on legally. The university's bylaws give it the power to say whether there will be a season. Every player presumably also signed a code of conduct before donning his garnet-and-grey jersey, and there appears to be proof that was violated, too ("an independent review of events in Thunder Bay revealed that the behaviour of some players was 'unacceptable' ").
Any Gee-Gees player who is in school to primarily to play high-performance hockey — and yes, they do exist in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, where a handful of players every year sign minor pro and European contracts — is free to find a new team. Typically, CIS allows any student-athlete on a team that was suspended or discontinued to play for another school right away without first sitting out a season.
Collective sanctions are inevitably unpopular, and always suck for those affected. In the big picture, Rock and uOttawa made the right call.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.