Warning: This article discusses sexual abuse and may be upsetting for some readers. The Kenora Sexual Assault Centre’s Crisis Line can be reached at 807-468-7233 (safe) or at 1-800-565-6161.
The federal government and Kenora’s Member of Parliament, Eric Melillo, say they’re outraged by the actions of Hockey Canada for covering up multiple sexual assault lawsuits and allegations, and for the use of nearly $8 million of public funds to pay off the victims.
The news broke of Hockey Canada’s mishandling of multiple sexual assault cases nationally in May.
It was revealed that the national organization – which is in charge of minor hockey and is funded by the federal government and players’ fees – used portions of those fees to settle lawsuits out of court and forced victims to sign non-disclosure agreements to keep the story out of the public’s eye.
Multiple allegations against Hockey Canada have since been revealed. They began with the sexual assault of a woman in London by eight players of the 2018 Gold-Medal-winning Canadian Junior Hockey Team, which became public in June, 2022 after a $3.55 million settlement.
The NHL has said they will be independently investigating the incident, along the London Police Service. The allegations have not been proven in court. The identities of the players allegedly involved and the alleged victim are not publicly known.
Halifax Police have also reopened an investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2003 World Junior Hockey Team. These allegations have also not been proven in court.
“The allegations of the alleged assaults are incredibly disturbing,” said Kenora MP Eric Melillo, in an interview with Q104 and KenoraOnline.
“The way in which Hockey Canada covered those up and this culture of silence that they’ve established is just as concerning to Canadians across the country. The fact that they were using fees from minor hockey to pay off these settlements...it’s something that’s left a lot of Canadians outraged. And rightfully so,” he adds.
Multiple investigations into Hockey Canada’s conduct are now underway, including those by the federal government and Sport Canada, former Supreme Court Judge Thomas Cromwell, third-party law firms and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Hockey Canada President and new CEO Scott Smith, Chair of the Hockey Canada Foundation Dave Andrews, and now-former Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney were ordered to testify before a parliamentary subcommittee for Canadian Heritage in June, before Smith took on the CEO role by July.
During the second day of hearings, Hockey Canada’s Chief Financial Officer, Brian Cairo, disclosed the organization has paid out a total of $7.6 million to settle nine separate sexual abuse claims using a fund that is fed by player registration fees.
“Canadians have lost trust,” said MP Kevin Waugh, during the hearing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the actions of Hockey Canada in July, calling them ‘absolutely unacceptable, shortly before the organization issued a series of open letter apologies to all Canadians, which specified that they will no longer use player fees to settle any lawsuits.
As it stands, Ottawa has suspended all funding to Hockey Canada until they agree to work with a new federal agency that has the power to independently investigate abuse complaints and issue sanctions for inappropriate behaviour, which Melillo says he supports.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on this in the House of Commons and in the Committee to shed more accountability on Hockey Canada and Sport Canada,” adds Melillo. “We need to ensure that proper steps are taken to ensure that those who need to be held to account, face that accountability.”
Federal Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, has also ordered a forensic audit of Hockey Canada’s funds. Hockey Canada received $14 million in federal funding in each of 2020 and 2021 with an additional $3.4 million for COVID-19 supports, but has now lost most of its major sponsorships.
In a statement, Hockey Canada says they want to hear from anyone – past or present – who feels they are the victim of mistreatment, sexual violence, harassment or abuse by someone affiliated with the organization. Residents are asked to reach out to the Canadian Sport Helpline anonymously at 1-888-837-7678 or at firstname.lastname@example.org