Hockey Canada questioned about alleged sexual assault and settlement

Hockey Canada executives came under fire Monday when MPs questioned the organization over its handling of an alleged sexual assault four years ago that resulted in a settled lawsuit last month.

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney and President Scott Smith were among the witnesses called to testify before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa.

Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit in May after a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the country’s 2018 junior world hockey team at a gala event in June of that year.

The plaintiff, identified as “EM” in court records, claimed she was repeatedly assaulted while intoxicated in a hotel room in London, Ontario after a Hockey Canada event. The woman, now 24, was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and the unidentified players.

Smith, who will take over as Renney’s outgoing CEO on July 1, told the committee that members of the country’s gold-medal-winning junior world team were “strongly encouraged” to speak with outside investigators hired by Hockey Canada.

However, it was not made mandatory.

“Mr Smith, if you want Hockey Canada to be truly accountable, you should have required all players to take part in interviews (with the outside law firm),” said Conservative MP Kevin Waugh. “You acknowledge that this is unacceptable.”

Smith, who is also the director of operations for the national sports body, responded by saying that Hockey Canada “borrows” players from other leagues for international competition.

“We have made some changes to our code of conduct,” he said. “We’re having discussions right now about whether or not we can strengthen the ability to force players we borrow to participate in investigations into what’s going on in our care.”

Quebec bloc parliamentarian Sebastien Lemire suggested in French that Hockey Canada play without its logo for a year “so that people think about this cultural issue in Hockey Canada and the responsibility it has. I think (Hockey Canada is) John Doe No. 9 in this case.”

Renney said Hockey Canada first learned of the alleged incident the following morning, June 19, 2018, when the woman’s stepfather contacted his human resources department, and London police were informed that evening.

Smith said that even though it took four years for the story to break, and only after TSN was first to report the details last month, there was no cover-up.

“The police were notified, we hired an outside investigator, we notified Sport Canada and we offered support to the young woman,” he said. “That’s not an indication to sweep anything under the rug.”

Details of the settlement with the woman have not been released, but Smith said the players allegedly involved did not contribute financially and no government money was used.

None of the accusations against the players have been proven in court.

Smith was asked if the deal is covered by a non-disclosure agreement.

“Liquidation acts are covered by the privilege of liquidation,” he replied.

Hockey Canada added that it has yet to identify the players who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman because its investigation is incomplete.

Smith said between 12 and 13 players were involved in the investigation launched by the sport’s governing body. Renney said Monday that he believed the number was between four and six.

Smith was asked if any trainer or coach was involved in the alleged incident.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “But I can’t confirm.”

Hockey Canada has said the woman chose not to speak to police or her independent investigator. Smith and Renney reiterated Monday that the woman also chose not to identify the players.

Smith said London police informed Hockey Canada that its criminal investigation was closed in February 2019. Meanwhile, Hockey Canada kept its own investigation open until September 2020.

“A lot of people are taking the allegations in the lawsuit statement as fact,” Smith said. “The challenge we had is that through extensive efforts over a period of 26 months, we were unable to confirm what happened that night.”

Meanwhile, the NHL is in the process of conducting its own investigation because several players from that world youth team are now in the league, while Canada’s sports minister has ordered a forensic audit of Hockey Canada.

Pascale St-Onge told the committee Monday after Hockey Canada executives testified that she first found out about the alleged assault and the deal when Renney called her two days before the TSN report.

“I was absolutely outraged at what I read,” St-Onge told the committee in French. “And like all Canadians, I had questions about player liability and why Hockey Canada would settle out of court.”

Government money accounts for six percent of Hockey Canada’s funding, according to the organization’s 2020-21 annual report, though the actual dollar amount was not specified.

Hockey Canada received a total of $7.8 million in Own The Podium high-performance funding for its men’s and women’s national teams in the four years between the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics.

“No one has been brought to account,” Conservative MP John Nater said of the alleged assault. “Nobody lost the privilege of wearing the maple leaf on their jersey. I heard about zero tolerance today. I wish that was true.”

“But if there really is a zero tolerance situation, every player who was in London that weekend should have been mandated to participate in that review or lose the opportunity and privilege of being associated with Hockey Canada.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 20, 2022.

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