New Brunswick considers cutting ties with world junior hockey championship
Premier Blaine Higgs says more action needed from Hockey Canada over sexual abuse allegations
New Brunswick's premier says the province is considering cutting ties with the world juniors tournament if Hockey Canada doesn't take stronger actions in response to a sexual assault scandal.
Moncton and Halifax are hosting the tournament organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation from Dec. 26, 2022, to Jan. 5, 2023.
Blaine Higgs told reporters Friday at the legislature that the province has considered withdrawing its sponsorship of the event. He said a decision will need to be made by the end of the month.
"All considerations are part of the equation," Higgs said. "Let's hope it doesn't get that far."
The governing body for hockey in Canada has been under fire since revelations it paid millions in cash settlements to complainants of sexual abuse allegations.
Some of the allegations involve players from the 2018 and 2003 world juniors men's teams. Those allegations have not been tested in court.
The Globe and Mail newspaper reported Hockey Canada put player registration fees toward a second fund "for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse," earlier this week.
To date, we have not seen an appropriate action.- Premier Blaine Higgs
"We want to have a real good assurance that the situation has been dealt with appropriately, so you don't see these sort of allegations or instances occur, because they're just not acceptable," Higgs said.
"We haven't received the confirmation yet that gives either my colleagues in Nova Scotia or myself that comfort."
Higgs said they need "concrete action" by Hockey Canada.
Asked what he'd need to see, he said "people-change, organizations have a different governance model."
"To date, we have not seen an appropriate action," Higgs said.
He wouldn't go as far as saying the head of Hockey Canada should quit.
Hockey Canada's board has backed the Bathurst-born CEO of Hockey Canada, Scott Smith, amid the sexual assault allegations and the secretive multimillion dollar payouts.
Prior to joining Hockey Canada, Smith served as the executive director of Hockey New Brunswick in the early 1990s.
Hockey Canada has confirmed it paid out $8.9 million in settlements to 21 complainants with sexual misconduct claims against its players since 1989.
CBC's The Fifth Estate identified at least 15 cases of alleged group sexual assault involving junior hockey players that have been investigated by police since 1989 — half of which surfaced in the past decade through a review of public records.
Higgs said any decision to withdraw would need to be made with Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston had no comment Friday on the statement from Higgs. Houston said in a statement Thursday he was "deeply disappointed" by the ongoing scandal.
"Before the 2023 IIHF world junior championship goes forward, we need to see some meaningful changes that respect the concerns of Nova Scotians and Canadians," Houston said.
Hockey Nova Scotia said it is suspending the transfer of players fees.
Hockey New Brunswick initially said on Thursday it would wait for the independent governance review of Hockey Canada, which will "provide recommendations about that organization and inform HNB's next steps."
On Friday, it issued another statement saying it would stop paying a $3 per player fee to Hockey Canada while the governance review is underway.
The statements from the premiers follow announcements that major sponsors were withdrawing their support, including Tim Hortons.
The New Brunswick games will take place in the Moncton's Avenir Centre arena.
Moncton Deputy Mayor Bryan Butler said in an interview Friday that the city is waiting to see what the province does.
Later Friday, a joint statement from Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said they look forward to "meaningful changes" with Hockey Canada so the event can go ahead, though they didn't specify what those changes would be.
The statement said the mayors will be discussing the issue with their councils and provincial counterparts.
The premier's comments represent a shift from earlier this year when it was announced the province was successful in its bid to co-host the tournament.
"We are excited to have partnered with Nova Scotia to win the bid to serve as hosts," Higgs said in a news release in May.
"This world-class event will showcase our province and our region, and we will provide an unforgettable experience for both New Brunswickers and those visiting. We look forward to hosting the players and their families."
The tournament was originally scheduled to take place in Russia, but it was moved after that country's invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
With files from Jacques Poitras and Michael Gorman