Trudeau condemns Hockey Canada over fund meant to handle sexual misconduct claims

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses Hockey Canada’s leadership over the sex assault fund stemming from allegations back in 2018 deeming them ‘unacceptable’.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it's "hard for anyone" to have faith in Hockey Canada's leadership after revelations this week about the federation maintaining a fund meant to handle sexual misconduct claims.

Speaking to reporters in B.C. on Tuesday, Trudeau said the fund is "absolutely unacceptable."

"I think right now it's hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada. What we're learning today is absolutely unacceptable," he said.

"When I think about the culture that is apparently permeating the highest orders of that organization, I can understand why so many parents, why so many Canadians who take such pride in our national winter sport are absolutely disgusted by what's going on,” Trudeau continued. “And certainly as a government, we will continue to be unequivocal in our condemnation of what we're learning and mostly in our demands that things change significantly.”

The Canadian Press reported on Monday the existence of Hockey Canada’s fund, citing a July 2021 affidavit sworn by former Hockey Canada vice-president of insurance and risk management Glen McCurdie that said it is used to cover "uninsured liabilities include potential claims for historical sexual abuse."

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.

The Globe and Mail on Tuesday reported that Hockey Canada built the fund using revenue from minor hockey registration fees. The news intensified the spotlight under which Hockey Canada has operated since news first broke of a civil settlement in May 2022 stemming from allegations made by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted in June 2018 by eight CHL players, including some members of that year’s Canadian world junior team.

When reached for comment, a Hockey Canada spokesperson told Sportsnet the organization “maintains a National Equity Fund, which covers a broad range of expenses related to safety, wellness and equity initiatives across our organization.”

The statements goes on to read:

“This includes, but is not limited to, counselling and treatment for players, concussion research grants to the Canadian Hockey League, criminal record checks of Hockey Canada staff, donations to Kids Help Phone, as well as a range of safety initiatives. The Fund is also used to pay for the organization’s insurance premiums and to cover any claims not otherwise covered by insurance policies, including those related to physical injury, harassment, and sexual misconduct.

“The Fund was established in a manner consistent with reserve funds maintained by other large national organizations. With that in mind, Hockey Canada has recently announced a full governance review, which will help ensure we are upholding the highest standards Canadians expect and that would include the administration of the fund.”

Last week, Hockey Canada released a “Letter to all Canadians” in which it announced it would reopen its previously incomplete investigation into the 2018 allegations, and would also “retain an independent, third-party expert to fully examine our organization and make recommendations to ensure our governance is geared to the requirements of a national organization of our scope and influence.”

Sportsnet confirmed Tuesday that before this separate fund was set up, any sexual assault claim settlements were handled through insurance. A source with knowledge of Hockey Canada said the fund was created under the leadership of former CEO Tom Renney. Renney retired on July 1 and was replaced by Scott Smith, who is president and COO. (According to sources, his retirement was not prompted by the allegations or investigation.)

According to The Globe and Mail, the federation’s fund “has exceeded $15 million in recent years,” and is “used at Hockey Canada’s discretion and can be deployed to write cheques to cover out-of-court settlements for a variety of claims, including allegations of sexual assault, that are deemed uninsurable or are settled without the participation of its insurer.”

In its statement on Tuesday, Hockey Canada did not directly address the source of the funds.

Hockey Canada’s finances were already under intense scrutiny. When asked during testimony in Ottawa on June 20 about the source of the money used by Hockey Canada in May’s settlement, Smith said the organization “liquidated a portion of our investments to pay for the settlement.”

Last month, Canada’s minister of sport, Pascale St-Onge, announced the freezing of government funding to the federation and called for a forensic audit. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage also initiated a series of hearings, which began on June 20 and continue with scheduled hearings July 26 and 27 in Ottawa with more witnesses from Hockey Canada being called as well as representatives from the CHL, law firm Henein Hutchison and Hockey Canada’s insurance company.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle, who is part of the Heritage Committee and will be in attendance for Tuesday and Wednesday’s hearings, said there will be "some very difficult questions" facing the organization next week.

"If you're going to have a fund specifically for sexual assault settlements, we're going to need greater details, we're going to need better answers in terms of what's going on, what's happening at Hockey Canada," Bittle told CityNews' Cormac Mac Sweeney on Tuesday. "What are the decisions behind creating that? What are the decisions that led to creating that, versus broader changes in the culture of the sport and delving deeper into that?"

NDP MP Peter Julian, who also serves on the Heritage Committee, called the existence of the fund "extremely concerning" and said it will be a central focus of next week's hearings -- particularly, he said, when it comes to the estimated number of lawsuits paid out from it.

"Hockey Canada has not been transparent, they have not been accountable,” Julian told Mac Sweeney. “They're going to have to chance that next week by answering, completely, these questions Canadians have."

--With files from Paul D. Grant

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