Ottawa considers restoring Hockey Canada's funding after 9-month freeze

The federal government is deciding whether to restore millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to Hockey Canada after a nine-month freeze linked to its handling of a high-profile alleged sexual assault in 2018, CBC News has learned. 

Organization warns of 'serious risks' if report shared with MPs

Federal government considers restoring Hockey Canada funding

6 months ago
Duration 2:00
The federal government is assessing whether to restore its funding to Hockey Canada nine months after suspending it in the wake of a 2018 alleged group sexual assault. But some MPs want the organization to hand over a key investigation report first.

The federal government is assessing whether to restore millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to Hockey Canada after a nine-month freeze linked to its handling of a high-profile alleged group sexual assault in 2018, CBC News has learned. 

Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge's office confirms Hockey Canada has now met all three of her requirements to restore its federal funding. Her office is deciding if and when that could happen.

"We want to make sure that the new board of directors remains committed to [bringing] the expected profound cultural change within the organization," said Ariane Joazard-Belizaire, a spokesperson for the minister's office. 

St-Onge publicly suspended the organization's funding in June after Hockey Canada's executives testified at a parliamentary committee and didn't answer all of MPs questions, she said.

A financial statement shows Hockey Canada, the country's richest national sport organization, received $7.7 million from Sport Canada in the 2022 fiscal year. The statement says the organization ended the fiscal year in June with $98 million.

"Hockey Canada does not need money," said Kate Bahen, the managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada.

"It has $98 million. There are many other sport organizations that actually need dollars to keep the lights on and Canadians want government funding to do good."

The funding assessment comes as Hockey Canada expresses concerns about handing over a final investigation report into the alleged 2018 sexual assault to a parliamentary committee.

WATCH | What Hockey Canada knew:

Anatomy of a Scandal 2

8 months ago
Duration 43:54
Allegations about misconduct at Hockey Canada

MPs on the standing committee on heritage unanimously passed a motion on Monday directing Hockey Canada to share the final report drafted by law firm, Henein Hutchison Robitaille. Hockey Canada hired the law firm in 2018 to investigate the allegations. 

A young woman filed a lawsuit last year alleging eight hockey players — including members of the World Junior Team that year — sexually assaulted her in a hotel room after a 2018 Hockey Canada gala. Hockey parents were outraged to learn Hockey Canada used their registration fees to settle the case without their knowledge.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh's motion requested the committee receive a copy of Henein Hutchison Robitaille's final investigation report within 24 hours. The committee did not receive the document by the Wednesday deadline.

In a statement sent to CBC News, Hockey Canada said it told the committee it "will deliver the report" but asked the committee "to consider the serious risks that producing the report to the committee could have on the ongoing police investigation and Hockey Canada's independent adjudicative process."

"If, despite those risks, the committee confirms its order, Hockey Canada will deliver the report to the committee," the statement says. 

Waugh said he's disappointed Hockey Canada hasn't shared the report and said the organization's federal funding shouldn't be restored.

"There's a lot of questions, still today, around Hockey Canada," said Waugh. "They've got millions of dollars, second of all they're still not being transparent."

Hockey Canada said its own panel of two retired judges and a senior lawyer is reviewing the investigation report behind closed doors to decide if there should be any sanctions.

"As that process continues, all information concerning the contents of the investigator's report are held in the strictest confidence so as not to risk compromising the integrity of the panel's work," said Hockey Canada. 

Jennifer Walinga, a former Olympic rower and professor in communications and culture at Royal Roads University, said Hockey Canada's statement sounds like a "manipulative tactic" meant to take a "protective stance."

"That excuse of confidentiality or privacy rights is weaponized. It's overused to the point where you're actually protecting the truth," said Walinga. 

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather called Hockey Canada's request "reasonable". 

"I think they want to be assured that the committee members will set up a process where we retain the information as confidential," he said. 

London police are conducting a criminal investigation. Police investigators seeking warrants last year said in court documents they have reasonable grounds to accuse five World Junior hockey players from the 2018 team of sexual assault. No charges to date have been laid. 

A man in a suit gestures while speaking.
MPs on the heritage committee passed a motion, put forward by Conservative Kevin Waugh, directing Hockey Canada to share the final report on the alleged assault in London, Ont. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

'Morality provision' recommended

An interim report by Henein Hutchison issued 11 recommendations to Hockey Canada in 2018 in response to the alleged group sexual assault. 

CBC News viewed a copy of the recommendations that include changing Hockey Canada's code of conduct to include a "morality provision, specific sexual misconduct prohibitions, and specific and serious consequences" for any breaches.

The recommendations also included mandatory training on both the code of conduct and "alcohol abuse and sexual assault avoidance." The law firm also said Hockey Canada should increase supervision at its events, prevent underage drinking, and limit its sponsorships of alcohol, as first reported by The Athletic.

A woman in a suit points while speaking.
St-Onge's office confirms Hockey Canada has met all three of her requirements to restore its funding. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In July, Hockey Canada provided a one-page copy of the recommendations to the federal government as one of the conditions to qualify to receive federal funding again. 

Hockey Canada also became a signatory of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner in October, a move that fulfilled a second condition for funding. 

The minister's office confirmed Hockey Canada met the final requirement for funding last month when it passed a financial audit that showed government money wasn't used to pay out settlements between 2018-22. 

Adam van Koeverden, parliamentary secretary to the minister of sport, said the criteria "we insisted Hockey Canada comply with" were strong and he's "happy to see some progress."

NDP MP Peter Julian criticized the government, saying the bar to restore funding wasn't high enough.

"We've had the federal government simply not step up," said Julian. "The federal government hasn't obliged them to do anything other than pay lip service to serious allegations."

Hockey Canada said it's continuing to "work with the government on taking measures necessary to restore its funding."

It also confirmed it's still paying well-known public relations and crisis management firm Navigator on an "as needed basis in a limited capacity to support our communications team." Navigator's slogan is "when you can't afford to lose."


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

With files from Sarah Sears