As It Happens·Q&A

Hockey Canada can't be trusted to fix the toxic culture it fostered, says prof

Leaders at Hockey Canada can't be trusted to fix the organization, says an expert in men's hockey culture.

Kristi Allain studies men's hockey culture, and says sexual abuse and secrecy are deeply embedded

Hockey Canada released an action plan to combat abuse in the sport with a centralized tracking and reporting system on Monday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Story Transcript

Leaders at Hockey Canada can't be trusted to fix the organization, says an expert in men's hockey culture.

Hockey Canada, the governing body for ice hockey in Canada, has released a new action plan to combat what it calls "toxic behaviours" and a "culture of silence." It comes on the eve of a second round of parliamentary hearings into the organization's handling of sexual assault allegations.

On Friday, police in London, Ont., reopened an investigation into allegations that members of the world junior team sexually assaulted a woman in a hotel room during a Hockey Canada gala in 2018. 

Shortly after, Halifax Regional Police announced it would look into allegations that members of the world junior team sexually assaulted a woman during the 2003 World Juniors in that city. TSN reported that it had interviewed three sources who said they saw video footage of several players sexually assaulting a woman who was "non-responsive."

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail has reported that Hockey Canada has used registration fees from players and their parents to bolster two separate funds to protect itself from liability. 

CBC has not independently verified the Globe or TSN's reporting. Hockey Canada, meanwhile, has promised to launch a "third-party review of Hockey Canada's governance structures and systems."

None of the recent revelations came as a surprise to Kristi Allain, a sociologist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton who's been studying men's hockey culture for decades. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Professor Allain, hockey culture has been criticized for many years, and it's pretty apparent that nothing much has changed. Do you think, given this latest series of revelations, there's reason to believe anything will be different now?

I want to be hopeful that things will be different now, and I think there are some reasons to be hopeful. There's been enormous public pressure to see change. We've seen the federal government step in and demand change. We've seen sponsors drop their sponsorship money. And we've seen Hockey Canada repeatedly say they're going to make change. 

But I'm less hopeful there. I want to believe they're going to make change and that they're committed to the transparency that they purport to be committed to. And yet we haven't really seen any of that transparency. Until there's real transparency, there can't be real change. 

So it would be really nice to see Hockey Canada not lean on reporters to break these stories, but to tell us what's actually happening. Let's know where this money, this slush fund to pay to settle claims, [is going]. Let's find out how many of these claims have been settled. Let's release people from their non-disclosure agreements and allow victims of violence at the hands of hockey players to be able to speak if they want to. Then we'll see real change.

This is a hockey problem. We have to fix hockey. And it can't be hockey people to fix hockey, unfortunately.- Kristi Allain, St. Thomas University 

What kind of conversations have you had with hockey families as you have been watching these scandals at Hockey Canada play out?

I've mostly been having conversations with the press about these scandals. But, I mean, I've had many conversations over the years. I've been doing this work now for over 20 years, and I've spoken to lots of players. I've spoken to lots of families. And these aren't new problems.

The conversations we were hearing are that, you know, people aren't surprised. The surprising thing is that it's taken till now to see a real public push for meaningful change.

Earlier this year, we learned of a lawsuit by an unnamed woman who alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by players, including world junior team members, in 2018 in London, Ontario. Can you remind us of what we've been able to learn since then?

We've learned … that the London police determined that there was no grounds to lay charges [and] that they are now reopening that investigation.

We know that … some sort of settlement was made to this person from Hockey Canada. We don't really know much more than that, except that Hockey Canada claims that they're now committed to looking at this again.

And we know that the only reason we know about this is through some excellent reporting by people like [TSN's] Rick Westhead, who's really devoted quite a lot of time and care and attention to shedding light on this.

WATCH | Advocates call for changes at Hockey Canada: 

Culture of hockey needs to change, advocates say, amidst new sexual assault allegations

1 year ago
Duration 1:55
Calls are growing for accountability from Hockey Canada — as well as demands for a change to hockey culture — after police open an investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the 2003 World Juniors.

And now through those reports, we have learned about another extremely disturbing incident that is alleged to have taken place back in 2003, in which Halifax police are now investigating. What can you tell us about that?

I can say that I wasn't surprised. But I'm also incredibly disheartened and shocked to hear this.

Again, this is a story that didn't come out through Hockey Canada — Hockey Canada alleges they're as surprised as we are — but [it] came out through a member of Parliament and again through the excellent work of some investigative reporters.

We've heard from Hockey Canada that the organization is committed to fixing the problems of its culture in the sport and this whole question of transparency. They've actually issued what they call an action plan today to "shatter the code of silence and eliminate toxic behaviour in and around Canada's game." Looking at the kind of things they are suggesting going forward, do you have any reason to believe that they will succeed?

I'm not sure how we can believe that the very people who've been committed to this culture of silence, to this secrecy, can be the people to transform hockey.

These are the people who offered payments to people who were victims of abuse, who subscribed to non-disclosure agreements, and have not been honest and open and truthful with the public [or] with the government about what's going on here. 

These are folks who have been embedded and embroiled in a hockey system that's deeply broken.... Many of them came through the systems themselves and now are back working in the system. 

These cannot be the people to transform hockey. We need new voices. We need new people. We can't have the same thing, can't do the same thing with the same people, and expect different results.

What should happen to Hockey Canada now?

I think the Hockey Canada board should have stepped down, and [its members] should be released immediately, and then we decide what comes from there.

To be clear, this is a problem that pervades men's elite-level culture of hockey broadly. So it's not just Hockey Canada. These players played in other leagues. They played in the Canadian Hockey League. Many of them ... that play in the world juniors go on and play in the NHL, the AHL, etc.

This is a hockey problem. We have to fix hockey. And it can't be hockey people to fix hockey, unfortunately.

So what do you think needs to be done to change all that, to sort of revise that culture and those attitudes?

We need to have voices from experts beyond hockey — people who are not committed to just producing excellent Canadian hockey players, but people who are committed to producing excellent people and a healthy sport.

Do you fear that there are other cases, other stories, that have been withheld, that have been swept under the rug that may come out going forward, or may not?

I would be surprised if there weren't. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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