Westhead recounts all the new information learned from Hockey Canada hearing
When Hockey Canada hired an independent law firm in 2018 to investigate an alleged sexual assault by eight Canadian Hockey League players following a golf tournament and gala, the organization didn’t require players who attended the event to participate in its third-party investigation, a government hearing was told Monday.
Kevin Waugh, a Conservative MP who represents Saskatoon-Grasswood and is a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, scolded Hockey Canada officials for not demanding that all CHL players who attended the golf tournament be questioned about the allegations.
"Does it not resonate with you that these eight players could be coaching five years down the road?" Waugh asked Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and outgoing chief executive Tom Renney. “You own that. That is unacceptable.”
Smith and Renney testified under oath on Parliament Hill for two hours on Monday afternoon, answering questions from members of the committee about the allegations and the organization’s response.
The woman, who is not identified in court records, alleged the assaults occurred in June of 2018 in a London, Ont., hotel room following a Hockey Canada golf tournament and gala. Her allegations, which included that some of her attackers were members of Canada’s 2017-18 World Junior gold-medal winning team, were included in a lawsuit filed April 20, 2022, 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.
“We settled the claim quickly because we felt a moral obligation to respond to the alleged behaviour that occurred at one of our events, by players who attended at our invitation,” Renney said in his opening statement.
“While we don’t know exactly what occurred that night, or the identities of those involved, we recognized that the conduct was unacceptable and incompatible with Hockey Canada’s values and expectations, and clearly caused harm.”
Smith told the committee that Hockey Canada was contacted the morning after the alleged assault by the stepfather of the alleged victim. That night, after internal discussions with staff and after contacting the organization’s insurers, Hockey Canada officials contacted London police. Hockey Canada also hired the Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to conduct a third-party investigation.
Hockey Canada contacted all of the players’ teams about the incident and “strongly recommended” they participate in the investigation, Renney said.
He said he believed between four and six players who were at the event in London participated with the Henein Hutchison investigation. Smith later told the hearing it was 12 or 13 players.
“On the advice of our third-party investigator, we were not able to impose sanctions,” Smith said, when asked why players weren’t punished for not participating in the investigation. “They advised us that would lack due process for them. It’s not something we take lightly. I’ve said multiple times that, if further information were to come forward, we would re-engage the investigative process and we will handle the investigation and any potential discipline exactly the way we intended it to be handled in the summer of 2018. We take responsibility. We hold accountability for this.”
Smith testified that Hockey Canada was notified by London police in February that the criminal investigation was being closed because the complainant would not speak with investigators. The Henein Hutchison investigation remained open until September of 2020, Smith said.
Renney testified that Henein Hutchison never delivered Hockey Canada a complete report. He said that being forced to disclose an “incomplete report” would be a mistake.
Canada’s Minister for Sport, Pascale St-Onge, has ordered an audit of Hockey Canada’s finances to determine whether taxpayer money was used to settle the case.
Smith testified Monday that no government money was used to pay the complainant. Rather, Hockey Canada liquidated some of its assets, he said. Renney said Hockey Canada would cooperate fully with the audit.
In testimony later Monday, St-Onge said she was contacted by Renney and told on May 24, two days before TSN reported the news of the lawsuit, that a non-disclosure agreement was signed as part of the settlement of the case.
The National Hockey League 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.
Several MPs criticized Hockey Canada for allegedly not making more of an effort to identify players who may have been involved.
Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP representing Mount Royal, questioned why Hockey Canada has not released a redacted investigation report, pointing out that the Chicago Blackhawks disclosed a report on the alleged sexual assaults committed by former video coach Brad Aldrich.
"By not trying to identify the gentleman involved here we may have other women attacked in the future,” Housefather said.