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Western women’s hockey team plans boycott over returning coach

Western University Yourk Western University - The Canadian Press

Western University women’s hockey team players wrote in a letter to school president Alan Shepard that they will boycott all practices and games if head coach Candice Moxley continues in her role following a third-party investigation into allegations of misconduct.

The players’ letter was sent to Shepard on Thursday night and forwarded to the media on Friday.

“We, the Players of Western’s Women’s Hockey team, will be boycotting any practices and games that Coach Moxley is involved in,” the players wrote in the three-page letter. “The concerns we brought to the university should not be taken lightly. Why is Coach Moxley’s treatment of us (past and present) being swept under the rug?”

The players wrote that Western officials only began taking their complaints seriously after a reporter contacted the school with questions and that they were told not to speak with journalists.

“We were silenced by the very university we expected to protect and support us,” the letter said.

A source familiar with the matter said players plan to attend practice on Friday and to play a game scheduled on Sunday in Oshawa against Ontario Tech University. The source said players have been told Moxley is not scheduled to return to the team before Monday.

Moxley has coached at Western since 2018 and has also coached in the NCAA at Buffalo State College for four seasons and in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Moxley also worked as a video coach with Hockey Canada’s women’s development and senior teams from 2013-15.

Moxley declined to comment on Friday. School spokeswoman Marcia Steyaert didn’t respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, Steyaert wrote in an email to TSN that London, Ont., lawyer Elizabeth Hewitt conducted interviews with 45 individuals and reviewed evidence before determining that the allegations Moxley had breached the school’s code of conduct were unsubstantiated.

While Moxley was cleared by Hewitt, allegations against Western strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watson, who worked with the school’s 38 varsity teams, were substantiated by the investigation and he is no longer employed by the university.

Complaints to the school included allegations that Moxley did not act following multiple complaints from players that they were being sexually harassed by Watson.

One source told TSN that Moxley was advised repeatedly over the past several seasons that Watson had made inappropriate statements about players’ bodies and had inappropriately touched some players. The source said when one player told Moxley that Watson had touched them inappropriately when they were working out in the gym, the coach answered that the player should wear longer shorts to avoid the problem.

Steyaert wrote in an email to TSN on Wednesday that Western would not make Hewitt’s investigation findings public because they detailed employment matters.

Western University kinesiology professor MacIntosh Ross, who recently spearheaded an effort asking the school to commit to an independent review of its athletic department, said Western is making a mistake by refusing to be transparent.

“They keep this report secret, and we don’t get to see what questions the investigator asked people or who she talked to,” Ross said. “It’s highly suspicious. I don’t understand how school administration doesn’t see how keeping it secret will fuel further resistance from faculty and students. There’s no way this can be case closed, and from a management perspective, this is terrible. It’s like they have no plan unless the plan is to protect the school’s brand at all costs.”

Ross said the school’s secrecy belies best practices. In 2018, the Dallas Mavericks made public a report that was commissioned after allegations that the team’s front office had a toxic culture. Three years later, in 2021, the Chicago Blackhawks agreed to make public a law firm’s investigation findings after it probed former player Kyle Beach’s sexual assault allegations. And in June, the University of Prince Edward Island made public a third-party report it commissioned after allegations of sexual harassment were made against the school’s former president.

Ross said he also doesn’t understand how Western officials concluded Watson deserved to be fired but Moxley did not, considering players allegedly told Moxley repeatedly about Watson’s behaviour.

“The message the school sends here is that coaches don’t have to act on anything if they don’t want to,” Ross said.

In their letter to Shepard, which was forwarded to the media by the parent of a player, the players alleged Western’s investigation was not fair, unbiased, or transparent. They wrote that Hewitt is a former board chair of Brescia University College and King’s University College, both of which are affiliated with Western, was a Western adjunct law professor, and also was a faculty advisor to the school during a university law competition.

“How can we trust that this investigation was unbiased?” the players wrote. “Why wasn’t an independent investigator used?

“Ms. Hewitt found that, after conducting the interviews, some of our allegations against Jeff Watson were confirmed. Why is the university not being transparent about which allegations were confirmed by Ms. Hewitt? More importantly, why is Coach Moxley returning when she knew of the sexual harassment and did nothing about it? How can the university justify the firing of Mr. Watson without also reprimanding Coach Moxley? Did the university inform the police so they could do an investigation?”