Federal heritage committee votes to invite Hockey Canada officials to testify next week

Ottawa Parliament Buildings Centre Block with Peace Tower and Canadian flag. (CP/file)

Editor's Note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be distressing for some readers.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage voted Monday in Parliament to invite four officials from Hockey Canada and the Hockey Canada Foundation to testify about the settlement of a civil lawsuit in which eight former Canadian Hockey League players were accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2018.

Outgoing Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, president and COO Scott Smith, former director of risk management for Hockey Canada Glen McCurdie, and David Andrews, chair of the Hockey Canada Foundation board of directors, will be asked to appear before the committee on Monday, June 20. The session will be made public.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle, who is part of the Committee and was present for Monday’s proceedings, told Sportsnet that should any individual choose not to accept the invitation, a parliamentary summons will be issued for them to appear before the committee. 

In a lawsuit filed on April 20 in Ontario Superior Court in London, Ont., a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted in June 2018 by eight CHL players, including some members of the 2017-18 Canadian world junior championship team. The alleged incident occurred in a London hotel room after a Hockey Canada Foundation event at which the world junior team was being honoured. The woman, who wishes not to reveal her identity, did not name the players involved – they are referred to as John Does 1-8 in the official statement of claim. 

The allegations, which have not been heard in a court of law, first came to light publicly last month when TSN reported the settlement involving Hockey Canada, the CHL, and the eight players. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. 

“This is something that we need to get to the bottom of,” Bittle told Sportsnet Monday, adding that any additional meetings will be accommodated if the need arises. 

“If it requires more than one meeting, then we’ll do that,” he said.  

According to information provided by the Heritage Committee clerk before Monday’s vote, the committee can also "request" documents as part of the proceedings.

Hockey Canada released a statement after news of the settlement, saying it contacted local police authorities upon learning about the alleged assaults in 2018 and retained Henein Hutchison LLP 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 organization also stated that the woman making the allegations chose not to speak with police or Hockey Canada’s independent investigator. Details of the internal investigation have not been made public. 

On June 2, Canada's minister of sport, Pascale St-Onge, said she is ordering a forensic audit into whether public funds were used in the settlement Hockey Canada paid to the woman.

On Sunday, St-Onge announced safe-sport initiatives that included the creation of an athlete advisory committee within Sport Canada to amplify athlete voices. The minister has also set a deadline of April 1, 2023, for national sport organizations (NSOs) to sign agreements to work with the new Office of the Integrity Commissioner.

St-Onge also plans to review Sport Canada's funding agreements with NSOs to "ensure that the standards in matters of governance, accountability and security are reached."

"We're all working towards breaking that culture of silence," St-Onge said. "So let's make sure that the athletes can speak out and feel free to do it. There's no reason to keep them from talking about their situation and what they're going through."

The committee first met to discuss the idea of an investigation last Wednesday. All parties passionately spoke about the importance of investigating Hockey Canada and delving into what the organization knew about the incident and whether taxpayers' money was used to settle the ensuing lawsuit.

--with files from The Canadian Press

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