Following Scotiabank's announcement on Tuesday that it was pausing its sponsorship of Hockey Canada in the wake of sexual assault allegations that came to light last month, several sponsors — including TELUS, Canadian Tire, Imperial Oil and Tim Hortons — have withdrawn their support for the upcoming men's world junior tournament amid demands for systemic change.
In the open letter to Hockey Canada and all hockey fans and players across the country that sparked the corporate response, Scotiabank president and CEO Brian J. Porter wrote that he is "appalled by the recent reports" and believes Hockey Canada must be held accountable.
"Today, we have made the decision to pause our sponsorship of Hockey Canada until we are confident the right steps are being taken to improve the culture within the sport — both on and off the ice," Porter wrote, also stating that he expects Hockey Canada "to fully cooperate with the Federal Government’s audit" and ensure Scotiabank’s sponsorship funds were "used as intended."
Per Porter's statement, the sponsorship pause includes cancelling plans for a Scotiabank marketing event at August’s World Junior Championship and redirecting sponsorship investments for the world juniors to other programs, "including the Hockey Canada Assist Fund, which is successfully helping to eliminate financial barriers to hockey for young people, and the Women’s World Championship."
Scotiabank will also make a donation to the Canadian Women's Foundation, which supports women who are the victims of gender-based violence.
"The time for change is long overdue," wrote Porter. "We call on Hockey Canada to move with a sense of urgency in order to ensure that the game we love is held to the highest standards."
Hockey Canada released a statement later Tuesday in response to Scotiabank's decision, saying they are "on a journey to change the culture of our sport."
“Hockey Canada values our relationship with Scotiabank, and we both respect and understand their decision regarding their sponsorship," the statement reads. "As we said to the Members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last week, Hockey Canada is on a journey to change the culture of our sport and to make it safer and more inclusive, both at the rink and in our communities. We have been on this journey for some time, but we agree that more needs to be done, and more quickly. This is a priority for our organization’s leaders, and with the work we are doing, and the changes we are planning, our intention is to ensure that Hockey Canada meets the standards that our many stakeholders have for us. Canadians will be hearing more about our actions in this regard.”
TELUS, Canadian Tire, Imperial Oil and Tim Hortons withdraw support from upcoming world juniors
Scotiabank’s decision to pause its funding of Hockey Canada made them the first corporate sponsor to do so, though more companies quickly followed suit.
Imperial Oil — the Canadian petroleum company that supplies gasoline to Esso-brand stations — initially informed Sportsnet on Tuesday that they were "paying close attention to this issue as it develops." A day later, Imperial updated its stance, saying it would not be supporting the 2022 men's world junior championship with the Esso brand while doubling down on its call for "important and necessary changes to the culture surrounding Canada's game."
"This matter is deeply concerning, and we have communicated our expectations to Hockey Canada that concrete steps must be taken immediately to address safety issues and ensure swift culture change," the oil company said in a statement. "Imperial remains committed to ongoing support to Canada's hockey community and grassroots youth and women's programs across the country."
Requests Sportsnet made for comment from Tim Hortons were not immediately answered. But, in a statement to the Canadian Press on Wednesday, it said that it is "suspending support" for the men's world juniors in Edmonton this summer as the restaurant chain waits for further details on how hockey's governing body in the country intends to take "strong and definitive action."
"Hockey Canada has communicated that it is committed to changing the culture of hockey to make it safer and more inclusive for all, on and off the ice," Tim Hortons' statement said. "We will re-evaluate our sponsorship agreement once we have all the information we need to consider our options.''
In a statement issued to Sportsnet by TELUS on Tuesday, the company said it is pausing its sponsorship activation with Hockey Canada and the upcoming World Juniors tournament. TELUS will “continue to support upcoming women’s events and grassroots initiatives dedicated to supporting youth in hockey,” and also pledged to redirect funds that would have gone towards the world juniors to Canadian organizations that support women affected by sexual violence.
“We are engaged with Hockey Canada to understand what specific changes are being made within their organization to drive positive cultural change and create a safe, inclusive hockey experience for all,” the statement concluded.
Canadian Tire echoed the disappointment expressed by the other companies, lamenting a "lack of transparency and accountability around the assault allegations" in a statement to Sportsnet. The retailer confirmed it was "immediately withdrawing its sponsorship support" for the upcoming men’s world juniors and was re-evaluating its relationship with Hockey Canada, though it did not detail what that process entailed.
"We are calling on Hockey Canada to do better and live up to their commitment to change the systemic culture of silence in our nation’s sport, and push to make it more inclusive and safe for all," Canadian Tire's statement went on to say.
Sportsnet has reached out to additional sponsors for comment.
UPDATE: The growing list of corporations to pause sponsorship of Hockey Canada now also includes BDO Canada and Recipe Unlimited, the parent company of Swiss Chalet and The Keg.
BDO Canada Pat Kramer said in a statement the company is "deeply disturbed by the news of the alleged assault involving members of the Canadian Hockey League, and the lack of transparency and accountability is counter to the values of our organization. BDO wants to understand what specific changes are being made within the Hockey Canada organization to drive a positive environment."
In a statement provided to Sportsnet on Thursday, Recipe Unlimited said it "will continue to be in contact with Hockey Canada to outline our expectations for change and to ensure the right steps are being taken to pave a safer and more inclusive future for hockey in Canada.”
On April 20, a woman filed a lawsuit to the Ontario Superior Court in London, Ont., in which she says she was sexually assaulted by eight CHL players in June 2018 following a Hockey Canada Foundation event. The woman did not name the players, some of whom were part of the 2017-18 Canadian world juniors roster, referring to them in the statement of claim as John Does 1-8. She also wishes to keep her own identity private. Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit in May.
In the weeks since, the organization has been in the spotlight for its handling of the allegations and the lawsuit, and has faced questions from the federal government about its reporting structures as well as whether it used any public funds to settle the lawsuit.
Last week, after calling for a forensic audit of Hockey Canada, the federal minister of sport, Pascale St-Onge, announced the government was freezing its funding. In addition to the money it receives from major corporate sponsors, Hockey Canada also receives about $7.8 million annually — accounting for six per cent of its annual budget — from the Canadian government. The federal funding freeze will remain in place until the organization discloses the recommendations provided to them by third-party investigators at Henein and Hutchison, and signs on with the office of the sports integrity commissioner.
Also last week, in the wake of a government hearing that saw president and COO Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney questioned by members of parliament about their handling of the allegations, the House of Commons carried a motion to ask for an independent investigation into Hockey Canada.
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 can be found here.