Hockey Canada facing backlash for survey on sexual assault allegations

·5 min read
Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge says the way the survey is worded at times makes her think Hockey Canada is underestimating the depth of its problems. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge says the way the survey is worded at times makes her think Hockey Canada is underestimating the depth of its problems. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A recent survey distributed by Hockey Canada has left some shaking their heads over what they see as out-of-touch questions about the organization's handling of sexual assault allegations.

The survey, which CBC News has seen, was distributed to parents, volunteers and coaches, seeking to gauge opinions on the sport's national body.

It has been under intense scrutiny since news broke this spring of an alleged sexual assault following a 2018 gala in London, Ont., involving eight unidentified players — including members of that year's world junior team — and the subsequent settlement.

Allegations of another gang sexual assault involving the 2003 world junior team emerged in July. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with several statements, among them:

  • "The level of criticism by the media toward Hockey Canada is overblown."

  • "Incidents such as this are unlikely to happen again."

  • "The allegations are only about a few hockey players and are not representative of the culture of hockey in this country."

They were also asked to weigh in on how important is it for Hockey Canada, while it works "to address systemic issues in hockey," to "discontinue the use of membership fees to cover uninsured sexual misconduct claims."

Hockey Canada told a parliamentary committee it took most of its settlement money from its National Equity Fund, which is funded in part by minor hockey league registration fees — a fact that has sparked public outrage.

The organization said in July it would no longer use the fund to settle such claims.

'How can they be so clueless?'

Lisa Wallace is an Ottawa sportswriter — covering every level of hockey from minor hockey all the way through to the NHL — and has a 15-year-old son who plays AAA hockey.

"I was doing a survey [and] I literally was shaking my head and reading some of these questions, because I thought, 'how can they be so clueless?'" she said.

Whether it's Hockey Canada or the market-research company Forsta hosting the survey, Wallace said it felt like those behind the questions didn't have a good understanding of how people are feeling toward the organization right now.

The question about the media's coverage likewise left a bad taste.

"I just thought, 'Really? That's what you're concerned about? As if people are, you know, concerned that they were treated unjustly?'"

Asked about the survey Wednesday, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge told reporters she wants "profound and thorough" changes from Hockey Canada, not a public relations exercise.

St-Onge also said the wording of the question regarding media coverage was off base.

"Asking if it's the media that created this whole crisis when we're talking about possible rape, multiple times, I think it's underestimating the depth of the problem and the urgency and the action that needs to happen," she said.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Participants were also asked to give their thoughts on whether the sports organization should implement enhanced character screening for all high-performance players, a comprehensive tracking and reporting system for all complaints of abuse, and offer an apology.

They were also asked whether the sports body should  "have leadership that is inclusive and diverse," "explain what happened" and "introduce new leadership."

In July, Hockey Canada did offer an apology and announced it would revive a dormant third-party investigation into the alleged 2018 sexual assault.

It has also appointed lawyer Andrea Skinner as the interim chair of its board of directors amid mounting public pressure for a major overhaul of leadership.

Range of questions asked

On social media, screenshots of the survey questions are being circulated. "The questions on this survey tell you exactly where their heads are at," one tweet read. "So @HockeyCanada .....this is all overblown by the media? Step up to the mic and say that," another said.

In a statement, the organization said it wasn't trying to downplay the challenges it's facing or the "horrific allegations of sexual assault against former members of the National Junior Team."

"Certain survey questions were constructed to gauge sentiment and awareness of the issues facing Hockey Canada from members of the hockey community," the statement reads.

"With regards to a few questions recently shared on social media, participants were provided a range of statements to respond to by indicating the extent to which they agreed or disagreed."

Hockey Canada noted those statements include "I am reconsidering my child's participation in hockey as a result of the allegations" and "there is nothing Hockey Canada can do to regain my confidence."

Scott Phelan, president of Ottawa's Stittsville Minor Hockey Association, said he's been discussing and hearing questions about hockey's safety and finances, and he hopes the survey's responses are public.

"We do appreciate being offered a survey … that we can engage with Hockey Canada to say, 'Yeah, you know what, I'm a hockey parent, I contribute to the program, where is my money going?'"

Wallace is unsure why the sports organization needed a survey in the first place. She said the money could have been put toward better programs, like instilling the importance of consent.

"It just kind of made me wonder, like, is their leadership that uninvolved to not understand the pulse of Canadian parents right now? [To the degree] that you feel the need to, again, to spend money … to run this survey?"