• Veronica Sansone

Hockey Canada’s Scandal Costs More Than Just Its Reputation


**Trigger Warning**

This piece discusses sexual assault and sexual abuse allegations and settlements, and some people might find it disturbing.

If you or someone you know has been a victim to a sexual assault or sexual abuse, call RAINN the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also visit their website for more information at https://www.rainn.org/resources. The hotline provides confidential support to anyone in who has experienced sexual abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes. Support is also available via live chat.

Para ayuda en español, llame al 800-656-4673 y habla ahora.


Canada has always taken pride in hockey, from the sport itself to its gold medal winning teams.[1] Hockey is a sport deeply rooted in Canada's traditions.[2] The country’s governing body, Hockey Canada, oversees the management of hockey programming, from entry level teams to national teams, while also hosting competitions and representing the country in the International Ice Hockey Federation.[3] Due to the organization's various members, from first time players to national team members, Hockey Canada’s mission is to “lead, develop and promote positive hockey experiences" within the sport.[4] However, this summer a scandal turned Hockey Canada’s governing mission upside down, costing it major sponsorships and government funding.[5]


In May 2022, Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit alleging that eight members of the 2018 Junior Men’s Hockey Team sexually assaulted a woman while in London, Ontario for the Hockey Canada Foundation Gala.[6] As a result of the publicized settlement and outcry following its release, an investigation was ordered as a precaution, because the organization is largely funded by Canada's federal government [7] The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conducted a two-day Parliamentary hearing to ensure that no public funds were used in the settlement.[8]


In response to alarming claims, the federal government froze Hockey Canada’s funding until a separate independent investigation by a third party revealed how the organization has dealt with previous allegations, since there is no concrete evidence as to what funds were actually used for.[9] With the freeze from the government, Hockey Canada about $7 million in funding for this upcoming year.[10]

During the first part of the investigation, members of the Junior Men’s Hockey Team were requested to testify but chose to stay silent.[11] Unlike the players, Hockey Canada’s president, Scott Smith, did not stay silent, and revealed that since 1989, Hockey Canada has paid out $7.6 million to nine settlements related to sexual assault and sexual abuse (not including the May settlement of $3.5 million).[12][13]


In an attempt to prove that public funds were not used in settlements, Smith further testified that Hockey Canada instead had a secret fund, the National Equity Fund, to support settlements for sexual assault and sexual abuse.[14] Even with the disclosure, the federal government still required an independent investigation for the Hockey Canada to gain funding back.[15] Additionally, there was public outcry “to transform the often sexualized culture that surrounds [the] sport” due to Smith’s testimony about the history of settlements within the organization.[16] Thomas Cromwell, former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, was appointed to lead the independent investigation into Hockey Canada.[17]

In October 2022, the investigation revealed that Hockey Canada was able to afford the various settlement payments because of the creation of a “third fund of cash reserves for uninsured claims, which was largely shielded from public view and accounting…because it was worried its large cash surplus would hurt its bargaining position in settlements, such as those it has made in the past with sexual assault survivors.”[18] The released portion of the report shared that the funding to support these settlements for uninsured claims came from Hockey Canada‘s player registration fees.[19]



In addition to the culture issue at hand, the fact that Hockey Canada was secretly using player registration fees to pay for the sexual assault settlements clearly demonstrates the need for change within the organization. In addition to losing its funding from the federal government, in response to the hearings several major corporate sponsors have since paused or severed ties with the governing body.[20] Others are still critically evaluating the situation.[21] This loss of funding is detrimental to Hockey Canada’s business model since the organization is funded primarily through the federal government and sponsors.[22]


As the scandal continues to unfold and more information is revealed about the leadership of the governing agency through various investigations, Hockey Canada has taken several steps to remedy the situation.[23] Recently, it has removed board members with the intention of giving Hockey Canada a fresh start to better serve its mission.[24] To further demonstrate this positive change, player participation fees will not be collected for the upcoming season.[25] The organization's response is following the federal government’s requirements to earn back funding.[26] Thus, likely all strides the organization makes are in attempt to earn back its federal funding.[27] Hopefully, Hockey Canada’s new leadership can develop a system for reviewing and settling any sexual assault or sexual abuse claims where the purpose is not to hide the victims in order to protect publicity and funds.


References:

Photo Credit: https://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/news/2008-nr-062-en [1] See Hockey Canada. Mandate & Mission - Who is Canada? https://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/corporate/about/mandate-mission [2] Id. [3] Id. [4] Id. [5] Austin Nivison, Hockey Canada scandal explained: CEO Scott Smith, Board of Directors step down amidst financial pressure (Oct. 12, 2022) https://www.cbssports.com/nhl/news/hockey-canada-scandal-explained-organization-losing-sponsors-due-to-handling-of-sexual-assault-allegations/ [6] Id. [7] see Sean Fitz-Gerald, Hockey Canada Scandal has ‘affected’ business operations at TSN, exec says (Oct 5, 2022) https://theathletic.com/3661437/2022/10/05/hockey-canada-tsn/ [8] Id. [9] Paul D. Grant, Checking in: How is Hockey Canada doing on getting its federal funding back? (Sept 19, 2022) https://www.sportsnet.ca/juniors/article/checking-in-how-is-hockey-canada-doing-on-getting-its-federal-funding-back%EF%BF%BC/ [10] Id. [11] The Athletic Staff, Hockey Canada created second fund for handling sexual assault claims: Report (Oct. 3, 2022) https://theathletic.com/3652366/2022/10/03/hockey-canada-second-fund-sexual-assault-claims/ [12] Id. [13] Richard Raycraft, Hockey Canada paid out $8.9 million in sexual abuse settlements since 1989 (Jul. 27, 2022) https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/hockey-canada-house-of-commons-committee-1.6533439 [14] Larry Brooks, Scott Smith, anyone else involved in Hockey Canada fund must go (July 30, 2022) https://nypost.com/2022/07/30/scott-smith-anyone-else-involved-in-hockey-canada-fund-must-go/ [15] see generally Id. [16] Ian Austen, Hockey Canada to Be Investigated After Settling Sexual Assault Complaints (Aug. 4, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/04/world/canada/hockey-canada-sex-complaints.html [17] Id. [18] Fitz-Gerald, supra. [19] Shane Ross, Hockey P.E.I. suspends funding to Hockey Canada amid calls for change (Oct. 11, 2022)https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-hockey-canada-suspend-fees-1.6612591 [20] Id. [21] see Hilary Punchard, Hockey Canada: These companies have pulled sponsorships (Oct. 7 2022) https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/hockey-canada-these-companies-have-pulled-sponsorships-1.1829103 [22] Id. [23] Glynn A. Hill, Hockey Canada leadership steps down amid ongoing sexual assault scandal (Oct.11 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/10/11/hockey-canada-scandal-resignations/ [24] Id. [25] The Canadian Press, Hockey Canada will not collect participants' fee for 2022-23 season (Oct. 25, 2022) https://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/hockey-canada-fees-1.6629098 [26] Grant, supra. [27] see Grant, supra