Nova Scotia

N.S. hockey faces 'pivotal moment' as teams seek change following sexual assault scandal

Hockey parents and players in Nova Scotia will notice a few changes this season when they get to the rink. New measures are being implemented by a number of teams aiming to make the game safer and more inclusive following the scandal at Hockey Canada over sexual assault allegations.

New measures aimed at reforming culture as hockey season gets going

Hockey players on an ice rink.
Minor hockey players with Dartmouth Whalers are shown at a practice at the RBC Centre in Dartmouth. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Hockey parents and players in Nova Scotia will notice a few changes this season when they get to the rink.

New measures are being implemented by a number of teams aiming to make the game safer and more inclusive.

They're happening as the national body of the sport, Hockey Canada, aims to rebuild trust. 

The entire board of Hockey Canada, the sport's national governing body, stepped down after it was revealed millions of dollars from its National Equity Fund were spent to compensate sexual assault victims — money that came from player membership fees.

"I felt robbed in a certain sense, you are taking stuff that was meant for the kids for mistakes that were made by others," said June Craig, whose son plays with the Dartmouth Whalers. "The way I knew was from the media ... and that's not right."

A number of parents have been taking their concerns to the organization's president, Phil Power.

Power said he's pleased that Hockey Nova Scotia has stopped transferring fees to the national organization.

Dressing room supervision

He supports moves the provincial body has already introduced, like a dressing room policy that makes it mandatory for two adults to supervise all minor hockey and female teams.

"It's a culture change, there always has to be two people in the dressing room at all times and we can't allow children or adults to go unsupervised on either end," Power said.

The Whalers have posted what is known as the "Two deep policy" on their website.

A hockey helmet with Canadian logo.
File photo of Hockey Canada logo on the helmet of a national junior team player. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"We're making it so this two deep policy has to be adhered to so that there are very few instances of any sort of bullying or abuse within the hockey arena," Power explained, adding it will be the job of those two parent volunteers to step in if necessary.

Teams that do not comply with the Hockey Nova Scotia policy could face disciplinary action.

Increased demand for inclusivity training

Change is happening at minor hockey organizations around the region this season.

The Halifax Hawks will require every team member to sign a pledge promising to follow a number of values, including refraining from misogynistic and sexist language as well as racism.

In Cole Harbour, the minor hockey association is adopting the principles of the universal code of conduct to prevent maltreatment in sport. 

The code falls under the national program of Abuse-Free Sport that launched operations earlier this year. 

A growing number of organizations —  and not just in hockey — have also been making inclusivity training available to their members.

Truro's Andrew Paris, who runs a program with the Canadian Sport Institute Atlantic division, is encouraged by what he's seeing.

"A lot of sports organizations at the provincial and national level are recognizing there needs to be a focus on creating that safe environment," Paris said.

One of his goals is to make sport more diverse. He was often the only Black person on the ice when he curled in his youth growing up on P.E.I.

Andrew Paris is shown working at the offices of Canadian Sport Institute Atlantic in Halifax. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

He worked with Hockey Nova Scotia and local associations in the past, as well as equestrian and tennis groups. Since the scandal, he was asked to work with minor hockey in Toronto.

"I go into discrimination and harassment and the things that happen within a sport environment that can lead to those things happening," he said.

The real change, Paris said, happens after his training when he expects teams to continue the conversation and engage players in things like volunteering in their community.

"I believe we are at a pivotal moment for the sports system in general," Paris said. "I believe hockey has an opportunity to be a model in how to create that holistic athlete and how to be that welcoming sport."

Sexual violence educational coming 

Hockey Nova Scotia is now developing educational programming on sexual violence it hopes to make available to its leagues and teams. 

The organization did not provide further details on its plan, but in a statement to CBC News said it has met with the province in recent months to lean on its expertise about existing programs.

It's an idea Craig favours for kids in minor hockey.

"Once they get to a certain level they need to maybe take a course on what this violence means so it doesn't happen again," she said. "We are seeing more of this so it needs to be made a priority.

Minister of Communities Culture Tourism and Heritage Pat Dunn said his department is working on the issue.

A provincial system similar to the national Abuse-Free Sport program is also going to be established, he confirmed. 

The program will have the authority to independently investigate provincial incidents of wrongdoing, Dunn said. 

"We're trying to push it because it's so critical, so important that people can participate in sport especially in our province and feel safe and included," he said.

It's possible the program could be up and running some time this fall, the minister said.

Hockey Nova Scotia said its new educational programming could be available to teams later this season.


Gareth Hampshire is an award-winning journalist who began his career with CBC News in 1998. He has worked as a reporter in Edmonton and is now based in Halifax.