The House of Commons unanimously approved a motion Wednesday to ask for an independent investigation into how Hockey Canada handled the sexual assault allegations in 2018 made public in a lawsuit that the national governing body settled last month.
The motion, proposed by Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire, was made to pursue a probe “to figure out if this was an isolated event or if there were shortcomings with the way Hockey Canada handles complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other types of misconduct.”
“This isn’t partisan. This is accountability and a shift of culture,” MP Michelle Ferreri told The Athletic when asked about the universal support for the action.
A young woman filed a lawsuit alleging that she was sexually assaulted by eight players in a London, Ont., hotel room following a Hockey Canada Foundation event in June 2018. The lawsuit, filed in April in Ontario Superior Court, was resolved via an out-of-court settlement last month.
News of that settlement sparked an outcry for transparency and the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage grilled Hockey Canada officials, including president Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney, on Monday. In that hearing, those officials said they don’t know the identities of the eight players who are identified as John Doe defendants in the lawsuit, despite settling the lawsuit on their behalf. It was also revealed that Hockey Canada did not require members of the 2018 U20 Men’s Junior Hockey team, the team identified in the lawsuit, to participate in the third-party investigation into the matter.
Members of Parliament questioned Hockey Canada officials on how they learned of the incident, how they reported it and how the organization paid for the settlement. Hockey Canada, which receives government funding, said it used no government money or insurance premium to pay for the settlement but instead liquidated investments to come up with the funds.
Ferreri said timing is critically important so that any investigation does not drag on and re-traumatize potential victims. Although it is not immediately clear what the investigation would encompass, she’d like to see Hockey Canada’s finances probed in greater detail, as well as how the organization has historically dealt with complaints of sexual assault. Smith said Monday that the organization has dealt with one to two sexual assault allegations per year over the span of the past five to six years.
The focus, Ferreri said, should be on accountability, both for individuals and the institutions.
“Nobody had repercussions from this,” Ferreri said. “Nobody lost their job. Nobody lost a day of work. Nobody’s been held personally accountable, so I think the investigation has to really delve into that.”
Approval of the motion came hours after the federal government decided to freeze Hockey Canada’s funding. Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge told TSN that the money will be withheld until Hockey Canada signs on to work with a federal agency that was newly formed to independently review and investigate abuse complaints.
“This is about changing a deeply entrenched culture, it’s not about simple Band-Aid solutions,” St-Onge told TSN.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the way Hockey Canada handled the complaints “unacceptable” and said that all options were on the table to find answers.
Ferreri said she found Monday’s testimony “disturbing” and felt that Hockey Canada officials’ comments on instituting culture change were less about introspection and more a reaction to public pressure.
“I think every organization, group, culture, sport sometimes goes through decades of doing things the way they do things until something forces them to realize it’s no longer acceptable,” she said.
(Photo: AP / Marcio Jose Sanchez)