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Sport minister wants Hockey Canada to create a public sanctions registry

Carla Qualtrough Carla Qualtrough - THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's federal sport minister is calling on Hockey Canada to create a public registry of misconduct sanctions assessed to players, coaches, and officials.

Carla Qualtrough told TSN in an interview on Feb. 19 that Hockey Canada should create a registry and encourage provincial and territorial hockey organizations to be similarly transparent about people who have been banned or suspended for bad behaviour.

“I think anything that adds to the system, another layer or level of transparency, is an excellent idea,” Qualtrough said, adding that a public registry would allow parents to “make informed choices about who they hire to coach their kids.”

Hockey Canada committed to an organization-wide overhaul last year as it tried to mitigate the damage from an alleged sexual abuse scandal that rocked the organization. Hockey Canada’s entire board and chief executive were replaced, and the organization announced that an independent third party (ITP) would accept misconduct complaints and investigate them if it had jurisdiction to do so.

Hockey Canada spokesman Jeremy Knight said the organization's staff is reviewing the possibility of a sanctions registry.

“Hockey Canada continues to review the implications and concerns associated with having a public sanction registry,” Knight wrote in an email to TSN. “In the meantime, our maltreatment complaint management policy grants the independent third party’s adjudicative panel the authority to determine whether a decision is to be made public at the conclusion of the ITP complaint process.

“While we understand that most national and provincial sport organizations in Canada do not have such a public registry at this time, we are studying and evaluating possible options to be implemented in the future.”

A modest but growing number of national and provincial sport organizations across Canada either currently have a public sanctions registry or have committed to one. 

Athletics Canada, Swim Canada, and Skate Canada all maintain public registries. Basketball Canada and Canada Soccer have said they are in the process of setting up registries.

The Ontario Volleyball Association, Athletics Ontario, Gymnastics Ontario, Field Hockey Ontario, and Swim Ontario are among the provincial associations that maintain public sanction lists.

The Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which accepts and investigates misconduct complaints primarily related to national team-level athletes and coaches, has also committed to publishing a public sanctions registry before the end of March.

Even so, neither Hockey Canada, one of the country’s most popular, organized, and well-funded sports organizations, nor any provincial and territorial hockey federations currently share details of sanctions with the public.

The Ontario Hockey Federation recently began to make public the number of complaints it receives, but doesn't offer any more detail than that, while in Toronto, the Greater Toronto Hockey League said recently it would begin to issue public notifications about sanctions that are determined to be serious violations (suspensions of more than 10 games or one month, whichever is greater), or fines of at least $1,000.

According to the new GTHL policy, the identities of people or groups subject to sanctions will still be kept confidential unless the league's president and chief operating officer determine that it is in the public interest to release such information.

Officials with some national sport organizations have told TSN they have put off creating a public registry because they are worried about being sued for defamation by people whose names are posted.

Qualtrough said she doesn't accept that explanation.

“I think it’s the wrong perspective,” she said. “Quite honestly, I think that's taking an organizational risk approach as opposed to human rights or an athletes’ rights or good governance approach. I think that’s the wrong lens to put on the decision to do something or not. Of course there’s going to be risk, but imagine the risk to kids and athletes and the system if steps aren’t taken.”

Qualtrough, a swimmer who won three Paralympic and four world championship medals, said she’s cautiously optimistic about Hockey Canada’s new leadership and direction.

“The organization overall is heading in the right direction, but I honestly think it’s too early to weigh in and say I’m satisfied,” she said. “I'm not congratulating anybody at this point. But they're attacking their governance, they’re working on new policies. They’re asking the right questions within the system. So those are good signs. But we are so far from having any real change in the system that it seems premature to congratulate them.”