Content warning: This post discusses sexual assault
On June 20, Hockey Canada president (and future CEO, as of July 1) Scott Smith, (outgoing) CEO Tom Renney, and Hockey Canada Foundation chair Dave Andrews testified in front of the Canadian House of Commons about their settlement with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players at a Hockey Canada Foundation event in June 2018. On April 20th, she filed a civil lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League, and eight then-CHL players, in Ontario Superior Court in London, Ontario. Only weeks later, Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit out of court. Because Hockey Canada receives 6% of their funding from the federal government, the House of Commons Committee on Canadian Heritage called on the three Hockey Canada representations to testify about their handling of the lawsuit.
Before the hearing, Members of Parliament (MPs) were telling TSN’s Rick Westhead to manage expectations. Kevin Waugh, a Conservative MP said “I expect they will lawyer up”. Instead, the testimony from Hockey Canada executives should damage their credibility and necessitate a major evaluation of how the organization functions. There were two particularly damaging issues in Smith, Renney, and Andrew’s testimony. The first was how Hockey Canada addressed the players involved, and the second was what Hockey Canada believed were the solutions to preventing this from happening again.
We do not know the identities of the eight players. Shockingly it turns out, neither does Hockey Canada. The assault was reported to Hockey Canada a day after it happened, and the law firm, Henein Hutchison LLP, was hired by them to investigate. However, the 19 players at the event were merely “encouraged” to participate. As Conservative MP John Nater pointed out, Hockey Canada could easily have told the players that future participation with Hockey Canada teams was contingent on participating in the interview. Smith and Renney weren’t even clear on how many players did participate. Renney believed it was between four and six, while Smith said he “was fairly confident” it was 12 or 13. NDP MP Peter Julian said it was disturbing that Hockey Canada didn’t know the number. But Renney and Smith don’t know because they probably don’t want to know. Waugh asked “does it concern any of you in front of me today that these alleged, so-called rapists have ongoing careers in amateur and professional hockey today and some day could be coaching?”. It seems to me that it does indeed concern Hockey Canada, but in the opposite way. They want to preserve these men’s careers. Which leads into the second issue…
Second, Smith and Renney did not seem to acknowledge the severity of the alleged crime. While Hockey Canada’s own official FAQ claims “Hockey is also a great sport for building character, and it gives those involved the opportunity to learn the value of teamwork, sportsmanship, and personal responsibility”, when discussing their own elite level players, Smith and Renney held firm to none of the above. Among the ideas they suggested to prevent such a thing from occurring again included implementing a policy on alcohol consumption at events, more education initiatives, and most disturbingly, increasing supervision. I think needless to say you should not have to supervise 19-20 year olds to ensure they do not commit sexual assault, and if you do, you have a significant problem. Smith and Renney did not seem to recognize that.
Hockey Canada’s intention with settling the case was to sweep the story under the rug and protect the careers and images of eight unknown players who may be useful to Canada’s on-ice success in the future. Instead, they have provided more evidence towards the necessary reckoning of how men’s hockey culture1, like much of men’s sport culture, fails to take sexual violence seriously.
- Today, Ian Mendes, Dan Robson, and Katie Strang published a detailed article, “‘We haven’t learned a damn thing’: Sexual violence is embedded in junior hockey culture” in The Athletic.