A report that Hockey Canada a multimillion-dollar, paid for by registration fees from youth players, to pay out fund uses alleged sexual assault cases is “absolutely shocking” and “troubling,” a Canadian Member of Parliament who is on the committee investigating the national governing body said Tuesday.
The Globe and Mail reported that Hockey Canada used the fund to pay settlements “without its insurance company, and with minimal outside scrutiny.” Tuesday’s report also said the fund was greater than $15 million “in recent years.”
“Absolutely shocking, in terms of what most Canadians would consider the preeminent sports organization in the country to just have a slush fund built on kids’ registration fees to pay out sexual assault cases,” said MP Chris Bittle, who serves on the Canadian Heritage committee. “It’s troubling also that there was a greater concern to set this up than to truly tackle a culture that would lead to an organization throwing up their hands and saying this fund is needed.”
The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will meet on July 26 and 27 to discuss Hockey Canada’s involvement in an alleged sexual assault case from 2018. Bittle said that the government could expand the scope of its inquiry into how this was handled and look into all national governing bodies.
That lawsuit, filed by a young woman in April, alleged that she was sexually assaulted by eight hockey players in a London, Ont., hotel room in June 2018 following a Hockey Canada Foundation golf and gala event.
Since the lawsuit became public in May, Hockey Canada has been under intense criticism with Tim Hortons, Scotiabank, Canadian Tire and Telus saying they will withdraw sponsorship and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the organization’s handling of the “unacceptable.”
Last month, Hockey Canada said in Parliamentary testimony that it reached a settlement of an undisclosed amount in the case, though it does not know the identities of the eight John Doe defendants. The alleged victim asked for a $3.55 million settlement in a statement of claim.
In that testimony, Hockey Canada has said it has dealt with one to two sexual assault allegations per year over the last six years.
Players on the 2018 U20 men’s junior team, which was identified in the suit, were asked to participate in an investigation conducted by a third-party firm, but were not required to do so. Hockey Canada said last week it would reopen the investigation into the alleged assault as well as conduct a full governance review. A Hockey Canada spokesperson said Tuesday that the probe would look at how the fund is administered.
The spokesman added that the fund “covers a broad range of expenses related to safety, wellness and equity initiatives across our organization.” It is also used to cover “any claims not otherwise covered by insurance policies, including those related to physical injury, harassment and sexual misconduct,” the spokesperson added.
The NHL has also said it would investigate the lawsuit.
“I’m really struggling to come to grips with it because it’s almost an acknowledgment that it’s going to happen so we need to have this in place,” Bittle said of the fund. “I don’t know if there’s been a strong commitment from Hockey Canada to deal with the cultural issues that led to this.”
(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)