Canada's minister of sport launching financial audit of Hockey Canada following sex assault lawsuit

·5 min read
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge, seen in February, has ordered a financial audit into whether public funds were used in the Hockey Canada settlement of a lawsuit. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge, seen in February, has ordered a financial audit into whether public funds were used in the Hockey Canada settlement of a lawsuit. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Canadian government has put Hockey Canada under the microscope.

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has ordered a financial audit of an out-of-court settlement involving a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by junior hockey players following a Hockey Canada event in London, Ont.

A motion also passed Thursday in Canada's House of Commons summoning Hockey Canada to Canadian Heritage's standing committee "to shed light on its involvement in a case of alleged sexual assaults committed in 2018."

As first reported by TSN, the woman accused eight Canadian Hockey League players, including members of the 2018 national junior team that won world junior gold that year, of sexual assault following a Hockey Canada Foundation gala in London, Ont., in June of 2018.

She filed a $3.55-million lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the CHL and the unnamed players. The lawsuit was settled. The allegations against the players were never proven in court.

Robert Talach, the plaintiff's lawyer, confirmed that his client had agreed to a settlement but offered no further comment.

Hockey Canada refused comment Friday on the forensic audit and the committee summons. A spokesperson referred The Canadian Press to a previous statement in response to the settlement:

"Hockey Canada is deeply troubled by the very serious allegations of sexual assault regarding members of the 2017-18 National Junior Hockey Team. As soon as Hockey Canada became aware of this matter in 2018, we contacted local police authorities to inform them. The same day, we also retained Henein Hutchison LLP, a firm with extensive experience in this area, to undertake a thorough independent internal investigation and make recommendations on areas for improvement which we have been implementing and will continue to pursue.

"The person bringing the allegations forward chose not to speak with either police or with Hockey Canada's independent investigator and also chose not to identify the players involved. This was her right and we fully respect her wishes.

"We have settled this matter and as part of that settlement, we will not be commenting further."

But neither the Canadian government nor the NHL appear willing to close the book on the matter.

St-Onge says Canadians deserve to know

St-Onge said in a scrum with reporters before Thursday's question period in Ottawa she wants a forensic audit of the settlement to ensure Hockey Canada didn't use taxpayer dollars to settle the case.

"What I want to know and what I think all Canadians want to know is, was there any public funds used to cover up that horrible story of collective rape?" St-Onge asked.

"The other thing that Canadians want to know is how could such an important organization make sure that their players are not accountable for these allegations and that most of them are now playing the NHL. And I think that Canadians deserve to know."

Safe sport has been at the forefront of St-Onge's first eight months in the sports portfolio because of a recent spate of complaints about abuse and maltreatment in high-performance sport.

The minister has declared she will hold the organizations' feet to the fire to clean up inappropriate and abusive behaviour.

NHL conducting its own analysis

Government assistance accounts for six per cent of Hockey Canada's funding, according to the organization's 2020-21 annual report which didn't specify how much money that is.

Hockey Canada received a total of $7.8 million in Own The Podium high-performance funding for its men's and women's national teams in the four-year quadrennial between the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics.

Own The Podium makes funding recommendations directing Sport Canada money to federations based on medal potential.

Since the defendants could potentially be NHL players now, that league is conducting its own analysis.

"The National Hockey League was advised of a lawsuit involving sexual allegations filed against eight unnamed members of the 2018 Canadian World Junior hockey team," the NHL said in a statement.

"We were subsequently provided with the statement of claim, containing allegations of behaviour that is both abhorrent and reprehensible.

'Crossing The Line'

"We will endeavour to determine the underlying facts and, to the extent this may involve players who are now in the NHL, we will determine what action, if any, would be appropriate."

Author Laura Robinson, who wrote about violence and sexual assault in Canadian junior hockey in the 1998 book "Crossing The Line", says the hierarchical nature of some male hockey teams can breed abuse of teammates, and can extend to people outside the team.

She draws a direct line between hazing teammates and sexual assault of women.

"It is still happening," Robinson said. "I looked at what was happening to the players mainly in terms of initiations and how they were sexually abused in initiations.

"It was part of the culture to be hazed. It's always sexualized, it's always a sexual assault and it's always humiliating. It's always a performance. I think what the girl's body is, it's the stage on which the players perform for each other," she continued.

"It's terrible that young people whether they're a boy who walks into a bathroom at the wrong time, or is a rookie player and gets stuck in a locker room, or a girl who gets stuck you know at a so-called party that they are the recipient of this highly toxic masculinity, very violent, always sexualized."

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