Hockey Canada signs on to Abuse-Free Sport following months of controversy

CALGARY — Hockey Canada says it has become a full signatory to Abuse-Free Sport, the new independent program to prevent and address maltreatment in sport in Canada.

All complaints of abuse, discrimination and harassment at the national level will go directly to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, a new federal agency.

Hockey Canada's announcement Thursday came as the national sports organization scrambles to restore its reputation after a series of damning allegations led to intense criticism and a number of sponsors to cut off funding.

"An important step in working towards ending a culture of silence that exists in corners of our game," Hockey Canada vice-president of sport safety Natasha Johnston said in a statement.

"We are pleased to be part of this critical addition to the Canadian sport system and hope a strong message is being sent to Canadians that inappropriate behaviour in and around hockey will not be tolerated at any level."

Hockey Canada said for alleged incidents involving other levels of sanctioned programming, an additional confidential reporting mechanism overseen by an independent third party has been established.

It's unclear who signed off on Thursday's announcement after Hockey Canada president and CEO Scott Smith left the organization earlier this month. The board of directors resigned the same day, but agreed to stay on until a new board is elected in December.

The Canadian Press reached out to Hockey Canada about the decision to sign onto Abuse-Free Sport, but only received an emailed statement about future leadership plans.

It was revealed in May that Hockey Canada had paid an undisclosed settlement to a woman in London, Ont., after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight men, including members of the 2018 men's world junior team. Shortly after, similar allegations emerged about the 2003 men's world junior team.

None of the allegations have been proven in court, although police are investigating both incidents.

Media and government investigations found that Hockey Canada had established three funds to pay for, among other things, sexual assault settlements. Its National Equity Fund used to settle the 2018 allegations drew its money from participant fees.

The federal department of Canadian Heritage, which oversees Sport Canada, cut off funding to Hockey Canada on June 22. Major corporate sponsors paused and later cancelled financial support, and on Oct. 6 provincial hockey federations began to announce they would not send their participant fees to the national body.

Hockey Canada announced Oct. 11 that Smith was out as president and CEO, and that the board had stepped down.

A former Supreme Court justice has been tasked with a full governance review of Hockey Canada after its mishandling of the 2018 sexual assault allegation. The organization said Oct. 15 it is already implementing two recommendations from Justice Thomas Cromwell's interim report.

They include a commitment to have an independent nominating committee review and vet all applications for Hockey Canada's board of directors positions, including the chair. No names will be added to the voting ballot without the committee's approval.

The new board of directors will also serve a one-year term as a transition board rather than the standard two years.

Hockey Canada announced Tuesday it will not collect the $3-per-participant fee this season that had previously gone to the National Equity Fund.

The federation made that announcement in a terse two-sentence statement posted to its website – not on social media or in a press release distributed to news outlets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press