Hockey Canada, CHL settle lawsuit over alleged sexual assault involving World Junior players
(Correction: In a story published June 7, TSN reported that officials from Canada Artistic Swimming were invited in 2021 to testify about abuse allegations in the sport. This incorrect information was provided by the office of Canada's Minister for Sport. The Standing Committee for Canadian Heritage confirmed on June 16 that while Parliament had requested the committee study abuse allegations in artistic swimming, no one was invited to testify because Parliament dissolved before an invitation could be extended.)
Hockey Canada executives may be asked within days to testify before a parliamentary subcommittee in Ottawa about the decision to settle a lawsuit in which eight Canadian Hockey League players, including some members of Canada’s 2017-18 World Junior team, were accused of sexually assaulting a woman.
The woman, who is not identified in court records, alleged the assaults occurred in June of 2018 in a London, Ont. hotel following a Hockey Canada event. Her allegations were included in a lawsuit filed April 20 that has been settled.
The plaintiff asked a judge to award $3.55 million. The amount of the settlement is unknown. The allegations against the players were never proven in court and none of the defendants filed a response.
Canada’s Minister for Sport, Pascale St-Onge, said last week she is ordering an audit of Hockey Canada’s finances to determine whether taxpayer money was used to settle the case.
Kevin Waugh, a Conservative MP who represents Saskatoon-Grasswood and who is a member of the parliamentary subcommittee on Canadian Heritage, said the subcommittee may vote as soon as Wednesday on whether to immediately begin asking for Hockey Canada officials to testify about the abuse allegations and produce documents related to all abuse settlements.
Waugh said Conservative MP Rachael Thomas tabled a motion late Monday to set aside the subcommittee’s current work reviewing Bill C-11, legislation to update Canada’s decades-old Broadcasting Act, and turn its attention to Hockey Canada.
“We have to get into this right away and summon witnesses,” Waugh said. “This just brings back so many memories of Graham James. I thought we cleaned this up after Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury, but I guess not. We’re now talking about an allegation of gang rape that may involve every third guy on that Team Canada roster. How the hell did Hockey Canada keep this quiet for four years? I’m appalled by the organization, and I’m appalled that this story is still now mostly buried by the Canadian media.”
The 11 subcommittee members – five Liberals, four Conservatives, one member of the NDP and one member of the Bloc Quebecois – will likely vote Wednesday on Thomas’ motion, Waugh said. He added that any testimony would be public, and the subcommittee has the power to subpoena Hockey Canada officials who don’t accept invitations to testify.
Waugh’s comments come days after St-Onge said she would summon Hockey Canada executives to testify.
"What I want to know and what I think all Canadians want to know is, was there any public funds used to cover up that horrible story of collective rape?" St-Onge told reporters on June 2.
"The other thing that Canadians want to know is how could such an important organization make sure that their players are not accountable for these allegations and that most of them are now playing in the NHL. And I think that Canadians deserve to know."
The NHL announced May 26 it was opening an investigation into the allegations and officially advised the NHL Players' Association June 3 of its intentions, as required by the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement.
The federal government has jurisdiction over Hockey Canada because the federation is one of more than 50 national sport organizations that is partially funded with public money.
Documents obtained via Canada’s Access to Information Act show Hockey Canada received $33.7 million during the eight years between 2008-09 and 2016-17.
It's unclear how many witnesses the subcommittee would call or how long they would testify. Parliament is scheduled to sit until June 23 before taking a summer break and returning Sept. 19.
Hockey Canada spokeswoman Esther Madziya, who did not respond to questions over whether the organization would cooperate with the government’s inquiries, wrote in a May 25 statement to TSN that the organization informed London police about the allegations and hired the Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to investigate.
Ariane Joazard-Bélizaire, St-Onge’s press secretary, wrote in an email to TSN on Monday that government officials expect Hockey Canada to share Henein Hutchison’s report with them.
Hockey Canada is not the first national sports organization to come under government scrutiny.
In April 2021, Canadian Heritage officials asked executives with Canada Artistic Swimming to testify after five women who were once part of the national artistic swimming team alleged that they had been abused by coaches. The former artistic swimming athletes filed a request for a class-action lawsuit against Canada Artistic Swimming, alleging psychological abuse and harassment suffered while training.
That case is active and CAS officials did not testify because Parliament was dissolved before the federal election in September 2021.
St-Onge also ordered an audit of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton after a group of more than 60 athletes wrote an open letter to the organization alleging it was riddled with toxicity. Joazard-Bélizaire said that audit is being conducted by an independent firm hired by Canadian Heritage’s office of the chief audit executive.
“The objective of the recipient audit is to provide assurance on the organization’s compliance with the terms and conditions of the contribution agreements,” Joazard-Bélizaire wrote. “In general, the recipient compliance audits are not published.”