Ahead of next hearings, Hockey Canada releases plan to address systemic issues

A Hockey Canada logo on a Team Canada practice jersey. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Ahead of the second round of parliamentary hearings on how Hockey Canada has handled sexual assault complaints, the organization released an action plan on Monday, outlining the steps it intends to take to "address systemic issues in hockey" with the aim of curtailing "toxic behaviours" — both on and off the ice — and confronting the "culture of silence that exists in corners of the game."

A special committee of unspecified "independent experts" will be appointed by Hockey Canada's board of directors by Sept. 15, 2022. The group will be tasked with providing guidance on implementing the organization's plan.

Though the details of the plan were sparse and the efficacy of their implementation remains to be seen, the commitments signalled a measured expansion of what Hockey Canada says it intends to do to address the culture of the sport — and its role in creating and enabling it.

The plan is built upon six core pillars, each with several measures included within them.

The six pillars of the action plan Hockey Canada unveiled on Monday. (Source: Hockey Canada's Action Plan to shatter the code of silence and eliminate toxic behaviour in and around Canada's game)

After sketching its commitments to accountability, including the appointing of a special committee to oversee its action plan and a review of Hockey Canada's governance, the first new measure enacted was the adoption of the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport 6.0. That document, which can be found in full through the Sporting Integrity Commissioner, is a robust set of rules for sport organizations to abide by with the aim of advancing a respect-filled culture "that delivers quality, inclusive, accessible, welcoming and safe sport experiences."

While noteworthy, Hockey Canada already has a code of conduct that is not universally adhered to at all levels of the sport, raising questions about how much of an impact a more expansive list of rules will have.

Among the most notable commitments Hockey Canada said it would make is the implementation of what it called "a comprehensive tracking and reporting system for all complaints of maltreatment, abuse or harassment."

The organization said it would be a "fully independent and confidential" system for "all individuals who are or have participated in Hockey Canada sanctioned programming." Hockey Canada is "targeting" the end of September 2022 as a timeline for when the mechanism would be implemented.

Aligning with its stated aim of transparency, the governing body made a point of noting that the results of the reporting system would be published publicly each year "to hold Hockey Canada accountable."

A step-by-step visualization of the new reporting process Hockey Canada unveiled on Monday. (Source: Hockey Canada's Action Plan to shatter the code of silence and eliminate toxic behaviour in and around Canada's game)

In addition to adding a novel reporting system, Hockey Canada also said it would be implementing "enhanced character screening for all high-performance players." Though the exact mechanics behind how the screening program will work were not detailed at length, it will go beyond basic criminal record checks and references from team officials, and will also include an assessment of "references and character outside of hockey." This screening will ultimately be used in determining if a person is eligible to be part of Hockey Canada's programs.

The screening is intended to be in place by Sept. 1, 2022, a start date that would mean it is active for the next series of high-performance camps Hockey Canada hosts in the fall.

Beyond the implementation of new reporting and screening measures, Hockey Canada's plan also included what it framed as more robust training for many of its members — including players, coaches, employees and volunteers — with a specific focus on "masculinity, consent and toxic behaviours."

Part of the revision to its training measures will include a "comprehensive review of all existing training programs by an independent specialist." The group initially tasked with this was GlobalLK, a consulting firm that Hockey Canada said it engaged with in July of this year. The first step the firm will take is one-on-one conversations with the leaders of Hockey Canada's provincial members, and the results of the review itself are expected in September.

The novel training program Hockey Canada announced on Monday was worked on with the assistance of the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region and Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse.

The training is intended to "drive a culture in hockey that encourages all participants to speak up." It will be mandatory for everyone participating in programs, beginning in the summer of 2022, and will continue to be mandatory going forward.

However, prominent members of the hockey community quickly pointed to potential pitfalls in how the training works in practice.

"In this culture, this doesn't work unless issues are humanized," Brock McGillis, the former goaltender who was among the first professional hockey players to come out as gay and has become one of the game's most important voices, wrote on Twitter. "Also this needs to be way more intersectional. All these issues intertwine and stem from a lack of diversity. You can't just tackle one part and think the job is done."

As part of its attempts to foster a culture that empowers — and urges — players to disclose issues when they arise, Hockey Canada's plan includes new punitive measures for breaching its code of conduct or failing to participate in investigations. As of Monday, doing so could now result in a lifetime ban from its programs.

It was not immediately clear if any retroactive punishments were going to be implemented for players who, prior to this rule, declined to be part of investigations.

The final significant commitment Hockey Canada made was, while vague, another expansion of how it intends to change its internal oversight of safety and culture issues.

The organization said it would prioritize and invest in "a robust department focused on safe and inclusive sport initiatives, including combating harassment, abuse, injury prevention, mental health and gender equity." No timeline for when the department would come to be was provided, nor was an explanation of the scope of its power to effect change.

All of the measures Hockey Canada committed to on Monday are in addition to the steps it had previously said it would undertake, which included:

• Conducting an independent, third-party review of Hockey Canada’s governance structures and systems, including a review of the National Equity Fund.

• Becoming a full signatory to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC), which came into effect in June of this year, and ceding oversight for all complaints, allegations or concerns with national programming to the OSIC.

• Establishing a new, independent and confidential mechanism for the intake of maltreatment complaints for all other levels of hockey (regional, provincial and local) not covered by the OSIC.

"We recognize that there is an urgent need to address the types of behaviours that are rightly causing Canadians to question aspects of our game,” Scott Smith, the president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, said in a statement Monday. "Culture change will not occur overnight, but with this Action Plan we are fully committed to making the meaningful changes necessary to ensure the safety, welfare and well-being of everyone who participates in, and enjoys the sport of hockey."

Support for survivors
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence and is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references can be found here.

Comments are turned off for this story.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.