COLUMN: Hockey Canada deserves financial death penalty for alleged sexual assault in London

Sports organizations, like the armed forces, are notoriously impervious to change.

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Sports organizations, like the armed forces, are notoriously impervious to change. They are almost always controlled by old boys’ clubs, suffer from insularity, rely on strongly hierarchical power structures, demand blind obedience and enforce cultures of secrecy.

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They tend to try to administer their own version of justice, away from civil criminal courts and the public eye. Often they end up perpetuating injustice.

The problem is that when it comes to reforming the armed forces, you can’t just roll them back — even amid decades-long sexual misconduct scandals. For obvious reasons, it’s just not an option to say, “Sorry, your conduct has been so egregious, for so long, with no sign of remorse, that we’re going to hit the kill switch.”

However, sports organizations do not suffer from the same inherent untouchability. They can be downed, or at least eliminated for a few rounds, without committing national security seppuku. Cultural inertia, upset fandoms and large financial incentives normally prevent this outcome, but it is possible.

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And now it’s necessary: ​​the country must flip the switch off Hockey Canada. Even allowing the organization to limp along, leaning on the crutches of apologies and public regret, is too generous in light of the allegations first reported by TSN’s Rick Westhead. The charge is that members of the 2017-18 National Junior Hockey Team, along with other Canadian Hockey League players, raped and sexually assaulted a woman – and that Hockey Canada pretty much squatted at this subject.

In 2018, after a Hockey Canada golf tournament and banquet in London, a group of eight hockey players allegedly forced a drunk woman to perform oral sex on them. According to the lawsuit, “The players also allegedly straddled the plaintiff while placing their genitals on her face, slapped the plaintiff on her buttocks, spat on her, ejaculated in and on her, had vaginal intercourse with her, (and) did pressure on her. to leave the room when she tried to do so.

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She also alleges that they pressured her not to leave the room, even when she was crying, that she said on video that she was sober and, after the horrific assault was over, told her to get away from it all. shower.

In the process, Hockey Canada would have allowed the players not only to escape any responsibility, but any investigation. The organization says it has contacted London police and hired a law firm to carry out an independent internal investigation and make recommendations. But above all, no hockey player was obliged to participate in the said survey.

Six or seven players present at the golf tournament where the attack took place refused to participate. Some now play in the NHL. Hockey Canada has not terminated any relationship with the players or disciplined them in any way, and it claims not to know who the actual players involved in the assault are.

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For its part, Hockey Canada states: “The person who made the allegations chose not to speak to either the police or Hockey Canada’s independent investigator and also chose not to identify the players involved. It was his right and we fully respect his wishes. We have settled this issue and as part of that settlement we will not comment further.

It should be noted that the woman alleges that the players involved in the alleged assault and rape pressured her into not making a police report or cooperating with criminal investigations.

  1. Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney testifies before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on June 20, 2022.

    Chris Selley: Finally, Hockey Canada’s day of reckoning is approaching

  2. People walk past a newly renovated Tim Hortons in Toronto, Thursday, July 25, 2019. Tim Hortons has joined a growing list of companies providing financial support to Hockey Canada following the federation's handling of a alleged sexual assault.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

    Tim Hortons and Esso pull out for World Juniors in another blow to Hockey Canada

As for Hockey Canada’s investigation, it was led by a third party who happens to be Henein Hutchison LLP, the firm that ruthlessly skewered Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers on the stand. Now, Marie Henein was just doing her job and doing it well, but it’s more than understandable that the accusers wouldn’t jump at the chance to be questioned by her or her team. It’s also understandable that an organization hiring Henein Hutchison upfront, even for a third-party investigation, might signal to an accuser that they better forget all about it.

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Before a parliamentary committee, Hockey Canada president Scott Smith testified that the organization has received between one and two allegations of sexual assault per year for the past five years. No further details on how –– or if –– these issues were investigated or resolved were provided.

Over the years, the NCAA has sentenced several college athletic programs to what is now called “the death penalty.” It is the most severe punishment given by the organization and prohibits a school from participating in any sport for at least one year.

Similarly, Hockey Canada should face the financial death penalty from its sponsors and partners, as well as various levels of government, until it comes back with a real plan to restore trust and accountability within its ranks. . Adjustments to its code of conduct are not enough. Token funding pauses that resume when the media cycle advances are largely insufficient.

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There must be ongoing independent oversight, concrete plans on how to deal with future allegations, a new culture of transparency and real avenues to hold players, coaches and anyone else associated with the organization accountable for misconduct. There should be a change in the higher ranks of Hockey Canada, preferably with the addition of new blood from outside the organization.

This kind of change, or even a change plan, does not happen in a few weeks. This takes, at a minimum, months.

So far, the federal government, which provides approximately 6% of Hockey Canada’s annual funding, has frozen its contributions until the organization releases Henein Hutchinson’s recommendations and “concrete details of its implementation plan. work of change”. They must also register with the new office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, who will independently receive and process complaints of abuse against Canadian sport organizations.

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A growing list of Hockey Canada sponsors, including for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Edmonton, have also paused or withdrawn funding entirely, including Scotiabank, Esso, Tim Hortons, Telus and Canadian Tire.

The federal government and these companies should proactively withdraw their funding for, at least, the remainder of 2022. Nothing less encourages a quick fix and a return to normalcy in which abuse and assaults are not subject investigated, unaddressed and unpunished.

All other sponsors or partners of Hockey Canada and future World Juniors should do the same. Still to make announcements: Nike, Sobeys, EA Sports, Pepsi Co., Chevrolet, SkipTheDishes, Bauer, The Keg and Swiss Chalet, among others. The governments of Alberta, Edmonton and Red Deer are also expected to review their financial support for the tournament.

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Hockey Canada’s official broadcaster, TSN, needs to seriously consider whether and how to continue broadcasting events. Advertisers should help them make this decision by pulling scheduled ads.

Hockey Canada’s fate should serve as an example to the many other sports organizations across Canada, from gymnastics to bobsleigh to track and field, which are themselves embroiled in allegations of abuse and assault. If Hockey Canada can get the death penalty, then anyone can. The ripple of change will be swift in the face of such a reality.

Giving Hockey Canada the financial death penalty requires collective effort and a willingness to sacrifice – but if Canadians love hockey as much as they claim to, if the sport is to represent us as a people, then it needs to scare. The status quo cannot continue and nothing but the harshest punishments will suffice.


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