Player participation wasn't mandatory in Hockey Canada sexual assault investigation

Iain MacIntyre joins Evanka Osmak on Sportsnet Central following Hockey Canada's hearing in front of the Committee on Canadian Heritage, discussing the organization's culture, player participation in the third-party assault investigation, and more.

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

If you or someone you know 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 for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.

OTTAWA -- Hockey Canada officials testified before the Heritage Committee Monday that none of the players on the 2018 world junior team involved in the alleged sexual assault of a women by eight CHL players were compelled by the organization — or the third-party law firm, Henein Hutchison LLP, investigating the matter on Hockey Canada's behest — to participate in the investigation.

The committee also heard that Hockey Canada has recently looked into two other allegations of assault and has had one to two such reports per year over the last five to six years.

"I will tell you that one (case of assault) in the last five to six years — not one to two each year, one in the last five to six years — is too many," Hockey Canada president Scott Smith said. "And that's why we're driven to change the culture in this game."

Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP representing Montreal's Mont Royal riding, felt Hockey Canada's poor effort to identify the eight players -- called John Does 1-8 in the statement of claim -- was "troubling" and was further disappointed in the lack of action since Hockey Canada learned of the incident in 2018.

"Especially given that when I asked them, they settled on behalf of the perpetrators and they paid out a settlement on behalf of these unknown eight players," Housefather told Sportsnet after the meeting. "There were only 19 players. To not have really done more to find out which were the eight that they had to settle a case for, and that are potentially perpetrators of a criminal act and that they're still playing, perhaps, NHL hockey. That's surprising to me."

Outgoing Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney mentioned during the early part of the hearing that four to six players had participated in the investigation, drawing pointed questions from the MPs, but Hockey Canada president Scott Smith later corrected that number to say it was more accurate to say four to six players did not participate in the investigation.

The committee also heard that Hockey Canada suspended its own investigation into the incident in September 2020, a year and a half after learning London Police Services were no longer investigating it, additionally citing the plaintiff's wishes not to participate in its investigation.

Renney and Smith repeatedly talked about the "journey" the organization was on to improve the culture around hockey in the country, but Housefather and other members of the committee repeatedly asked to see concrete steps taken in that direction.

"If they felt they didn't have the legal right to force the players to participate in these interviews, why didn't they change the contract the next year?" Housefather said after the committee meeting. "Why didn't they immediately oblige all future Team Canada (players) to participate in this type of an interview? And they still haven't done it. They still haven't changed the process, and it's four years later. So, that was also troubling."

The federal Committee on Canadian Heritage invited four Hockey Canada officials to appear in Ottawa for questioning: Hockey Canada president and chief operating officer Smith, outgoing CEO Renney, Hockey Canada Foundation chair Dave Andrews and former director of risk management Glen McCurdie.

McCurdie did not attend because of the death of his father. Also attending was Andrew Winton, a Hockey Canada lawyer.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final last week that the league, with the cooperation of the NHLPA, was conducting an investigation into the incident.

"I hope that, like others have said, that the NHL is not the one that will find the answer here," Housefather said. "And Hockey Canada will be embarrassed because the NHL was able to do a proper investigation. ... I think we, in this country, deserve that Hockey Canada does a better investigation."

Renney has served as CEO of Hockey Canada since his appointment to the position in 2014. At the time, he was also appointed president but stepped down from that role in 2017 while staying on as CEO. On April 20, Renney announced that he was retiring from Hockey Canada, effective July 1, with Smith taking over the position. Smith was named COO in 2007, and took over Renney’s role as president when Renney stepped away from that position in 2017.

Renney said his stepping down had been planned since April 2021.

Canada’s minister of sport, Hon. Pascale St-Onge, earlier this month called for a forensic audit of Hockey Canada to determine whether any taxpayers’ money was used in the settlement. St-Onge and Isabelle Mondou, deputy minister of the Department of Canadian Heritage, also testified in front of the committee.

Hockey Canada previously mentioned in a statement and reiterated in front of the committee that “no government funds were used in the recent settlement of the lawsuit.”

Parliament is scheduled to recess for the summer on Thursday. The Heritage committee has one more meeting scheduled for this session on Wednesday.

According to the Hockey Canada's 2020-21 annual report, government assistance accounts for six per cent of the organization's annual funding.

CBC reported Monday that Hockey Canada received $14 million in federal funding in 2020 and '21.

On April 20, a woman filed a civil lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League, and eight CHL players, in Ontario Superior Court in London, Ont. In it, the woman says she was sexually assaulted by eight CHL players – including some members of the 2017-18 Canadian World Junior Championship team – in a London hotel room after a Hockey Canada Foundation event in June 2018. The woman chose not to reveal her identity, nor the identities of the eight players – they are referred to in the lawsuit as John Does 1-8.

The lawsuit was settled in May, and the case has not been heard in a court of law. Terms of the settlement have not been released.

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