Police open investigation into alleged 2003 sexual assault involving World Junior team

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

Halifax police are opening an investigation into an alleged group sexual assault said to have taken place in 2003 involving players from that year’s Canadian world junior hockey team. 

Constable John MacLeod said in a statement issued on Friday that Halifax Regional Police received a report Thursday night related to the alleged incident.

“It is not our practice to provide information in relation to individuals involved in investigations unless charges have been laid and sworn before the courts,” MacLeod said in the statement. “We take all matters of this nature very seriously and will be conducting a thorough investigation.”

News of the investigation emerged shortly after Hockey Canada revealed in a statement Friday it had learned of the allegations upon being contacted by TSN’s Rick Westhead Thursday evening. Upon learning of the “deeply disturbing” allegations, the organization said it contacted Halifax Regional Police (Halifax co-hosted the 2003 world junior championship) and notified Sport Canada. 

Hockey Canada said in its statement that “Westhead informed Hockey Canada he has spoken to multiple witnesses who provided him with explicit descriptions of an assault, following an interview with Conservative MP John Nater, who is in possession of the same or similar information.”

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.

Hockey Canada said that before learning of the alleged incident, staff had “heard a rumour about ‘something bad at the 2003 World Juniors'” but did not have details. They reported that information to Sport Canada and hired a third-party investigator, which was “unable to learn anything” before being contacted by TSN.

In the TSN story, three sources are said to have viewed a video that purportedly “shows roughly a half-dozen players taking turns having sex with a woman who was non-responsive.” All three of the sources told TSN they would be willing to testify in private before the committee.

Nater is a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which heard testimony from Hockey Canada officials on June 20 about 2018 sexual assault allegations against some members of the 2017-18 world junior team and their handling of a lawsuit settled in May. The committee will further question members of Hockey Canada, as well as others around the organization, in another set of hearings July 26-27.

Hockey Canada has been under fire for its handling of sexual violence allegations after news broke in May that it settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted in June 2018 in London, Ont., by eight CHL players, including some members of the 2017-18 Canadian world junior team.

In the two months since those allegations came to light, multiple players from that team have released statements denying their involvement. The organization has had its government funding frozen while multiple major corporate partners have suspended sponsorship agreements amid calls for action and accountability.

Those calls prompted Hockey Canada to announce last week the reopening of its third-party investigation into the matter, with the lawyer of the woman who brought forth the lawsuit confirming his client will participate. London Police Service announced Friday it was reopening its criminal investigation into the incident after an internal review conducted this week.

Investigative reports from The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail revealed earlier this week the existence of a fund — later acknowledged by Hockey Canada as its “National Equity Fund” — that is used, at least partially, to settle claims of sexual assault.

Next week, retired CEO of Hockey Canada Tom Renney, as well as the organization’s president Scott Smith and Hockey Canada chairman Dave Andrews, will appear once again before parliament for another set of hearings as the government examines how the federation responded internally to the 2018 allegations and how it handled the lawsuit served via Ontario Superior Court in London on April 20. The three officials appeared in Ottawa for testimony on June 20, after which the committee felt more information was needed.

Also appearing before parliament on Wednesday will be former Hockey Canada vice-president of insurance and risk management Glen McCurdie, CHL president Dan MacKenzie, commissioners of the QMJHL, OHL and WHL, and CEO of insurance company BFL Canada Barry F. Lorenzetti.

On Tuesday, the first session of next week’s two days of hearings, testimony will be heard from a representative from Henein Hutchison LLP, the law firm retained by Hockey Canada to launch a third-party investigation into the 2018 claims, as well as representatives from Sport Canada and federal minister of sport Pascale St-Onge.

In a statement sent to Sportsnet on Friday, St-Onge, said, “Today we learned of yet another horror story that allegedly occurred in 2003. Once again, like all Canadians, I am appalled and angry. It is clear that the culture of silence and the trivialization of sexual violence is well-entrenched in the culture of this sport.

“Hockey Canada has a lot of work to do on this issue before they regain the trust of Canadians. Anyone with information about the events of 2003, or any other such event, should report it to the police.”

Carlo Colaiacovo, a member of the 2002-03 world junior team, issued a statement Friday denying any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged assault.

“I was saddened to read today’s Hockey Canada Statement relating to allegations against members of the 2003 Canadian World Junior Hockey team in Halifax, Nova Scotia,” Colaiacovo wrote. “As a member of that team, it is important that everyone is aware that I had no involvement or knowledge of any incidents whatsoever. I will cooperate fully with any investigations.”

Also on Friday, the NHL issued a statement to Sportsnet regarding the allegations: “We were made aware earlier today of the horrific allegations against members of the 2002-03 Canadian National Junior Team. The National Hockey League will look into the allegations and will respond appropriately.” Almost all of the members of the 2003 Canadian team went on to play in the NHL. An NHLPA spokesman did not provide a comment when contacted by Sportsnet.

The remainder of Hockey Canada’s statement:

“We believe the alleged incident from 2003 should be investigated by the authorities, and we urge the police to open an investigation into this disturbing situation. Hockey Canada will cooperate with and support the authorities in every way we can, and we once again urge anyone who may have relevant information about this alleged incident to contact Halifax police immediately.

“Hockey Canada wants to hear from anyone – past or present – who feels they are the victim of mistreatment, sexual violence, harassment or abuse by someone affiliated with our organization. You can reach out via the Canadian Sport Helpline, a free, anonymous, confidential and independent service in both official languages: 1-888-837 7678 or info@abuse-free-sport.ca. We also encourage anyone who may need support to reach out to one of the many victim resource services across Canada. A general listing of resources in this area is available on the website of the Canadian Resource Centre for the Victims of Crime at crcvc.ca.”

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