Hockey

Hockey Canada says it will no longer use reserve fund to settle sexual assault claims

Hockey Canada says it will no longer use a fund maintained by membership fees collected across the country to settle sexual assault claims.

Police to review investigation of alleged sex assault following Hockey Canada event

According to reports, an alleged sexual assault took place in June of 2018 after a Hockey Canada Foundation event in London, Ont. (@HockeyCanada/Twitter)

Hockey Canada says it will no longer use a fund maintained by membership fees collected across the country to settle sexual assault claims.

The national federation has been under intense scrutiny since May when it emerged the organization quietly settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges she was assaulted while intoxicated by eight unnamed players, including members of the country's 2018 world junior team, following a gala event in London, Ont., four years ago.

Hockey Canada's so-called "National Equity Fund" came to light this week as it continues to deal with the fallout from its handling of the alleged assault and subsequent out-of-court settlement.

The news of the fund drew the ire of Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who blasted Hockey Canada's leadership publicly and said the organization needed a "real reckoning."

"I think it's obviously a step in the right direction," Trudeau said of the decision to stop using the fund on Thursday. "But Hockey Canada needs to do an awful lot as an organization to gain back the trust of Canadians. Their behaviour over these past years and indeed over these past months has not been worthy of an organization that embodies so many hopes and dreams for young Canadian boys and girls.

Details of the fund, which has not been listed as part of the organization's annual reports, are included in a July 2021 affidavit sworn by Glen McCurdie, who was then Hockey Canada's vice-president of insurance and risk management, as part of a lawsuit launched by an injured player in Ontario.

McCurdie's affidavit said "Hockey Canada maintains a reserve in a segregated account to pay for any such uninsured liabilities as they arise." It goes on to say that "uninsured liabilities include potential claims for historical sexual abuse."

Hockey Canada said in a statement Wednesday that, effective immediately, the fund "will be exclusively dedicated towards safety, wellness and equity initiatives, as well as insurance across our organization — activities which comprised 98 per cent of its resources between 2014 and 2021."

WATCH | Hockey Canada ending use of fund:

Hockey Canada says it will no longer use equity fund to settle sexual assault claims

3 months ago
Duration 4:41
Hockey Canada said in a statement Wednesday its National Equity Fund will no longer be used to settle sexual assault claims.

London Police to review investigation

Meanwhile, authorities in London have ordered an internal review of their investigation into the alleged sexual assault. Police Chief Steve Williams said in a statement his department is looking to determine if any "additional investigative avenues may exist."

He added the original investigation, which concluded without charges in February 2019, was "lengthy and detailed."

Hockey Canada has seen its federal funding cut off and corporate sponsors pause financial support in the wake of the alleged assault and settlement that was first reported by TSN in May.

"Hockey Canada recognizes we have significant work to do to rebuild trust with Canadians," Wednesday's statement read. "We know we need to hold ourselves accountable. That is why we are beginning a full governance review of our organization that will be overseen by an independent third party.

"This will include the National Equity Fund."

WATCH l Government freezes Hockey Canada funding:

Government freezes Hockey Canada funding over sex assault allegation settlement

4 months ago
Duration 2:08
The federal government is freezing funding to Hockey Canada after Sports Minister Pascale St. Onge said she's concerned by how the organization handled an alleged sexual assault by eight junior hockey players.

Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith and predecessor Tom Renney will be back in Ottawa next week as MPs continue to press the under-fire federation for answers about the London incident and out-of-court settlement that has rocked the sport.

Smith, Renney, McCurdie and Canadian Hockey League president Dan MacKenzie are scheduled to testify in front of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage next Wednesday on Parliament Hill.

The same goes for the heads of the country's three major junior circuits — Quebec Major Junior Hockey League commissioner Gilles Courteau, Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch, and Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison.

The temperature on the sport's national body turned up further this week when The Canadian Press was first to report it maintains the "National Equity Fund" to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.

Hockey Canada confirmed Tuesday the fund covers a "broad range of expenses related to safety, wellness and equity initiatives."

"The fund is also used to pay for the organization's insurance premiums and to cover any claims not otherwise covered by insurance policies, including those related to physical injury, harassment, and sexual misconduct," the statement read.

Hockey Canada added the fund was "established in a manner consistent with reserve funds maintained by other large national organizations."

'Absolutely unacceptable'

"I think right now it's hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada," Trudeau told reporters Tuesday.

"What we're learning is absolutely unacceptable."

Barry Lorenzetti, president and CEO of insurance provider BFL Canada, and Hockey Canada Foundation chair Dave Andrews are also scheduled to testify before committee on Wednesday.

Danielle Robitaille of Henein Hutchison LLP — the law firm that conducted an incomplete third-party investigation for Hockey Canada in response to the alleged incident — is expected to appear Tuesday along with Minister of Sport Pascal St-Onge and officials from Sport Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Smith, Renney, McCurdie, MacKenzie, Courteau, Branch, Robison and Andrews will appear in front of committee under subpoena.

WATCH | Trudeau calls report of legal fund for abuse claims 'unacceptable':

Trudeau responds to latest allegations against Hockey Canada

3 months ago
Duration 0:57
Responding to a report that Hockey Canada had a legal fund to pay off sexual assault victims, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doubled down on his support for freezing the organization's funding pending an investigation.

Smith, who's also Hockey Canada's president, took over for the retiring Renney as CEO on July 1.

Renney, Smith and Andrews testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last month.

Parliamentarians were troubled by what they learned, including that Hockey Canada didn't make participation in its investigation mandatory, didn't know the identity of the players in question, and paid the settlement without having the full picture of what happened.

Smith testified "12 or 13" of the 19 players were interviewed before Hockey Canada's original probe concluded in September 2020. London police closed their investigation in February 2019 without laying charges.

The woman was seeking more than $3.5 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the CHL and the players. Details of the settlement are not public, but Smith testified last month the organization liquidated investments to pay for the settlement.

"If you want real accountability from Hockey Canada, you should have demanded all players participate in the interviews [with the outside law firm]," Conservative MP Kevin Waugh told Smith in committee last month.

Bloc Quebecois counterpart Sebastien Lemire suggested in French that Hockey Canada is "John Doe No. 9 in this case."

The fallout was swift.

Unhappy with what they heard, MPs called for this next round of meetings, a redacted copy of the non-disclosure agreement related to the settlement, and a long list of Hockey Canada communications.

The federation released an open letter to Canadians last week that included numerous promises, including a pledge to reopen its third-party investigation — participation is now mandatory — and that full governance review.

The NHL is also conducting an investigation because many of the players are now in the league, but isn't making participation mandatory.

Some members of the 2018 world junior team have stated publicly they either weren't involved in the alleged incident or didn't attend the gala, including current NHLers Cale Makar, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Victor Mete, Conor Timmins, Taylor Raddysh and Jonah Gadjovich.

"We have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 national junior team or to end the culture of toxic behaviour within our game," Hockey Canada wrote in its letter last week.

"For that we unreservedly apologize."

WATCH l Hockey Canada reopens probe into sexual assault allegations:

Hockey Canada reopening probe into sexual assault allegations

3 months ago
Duration 1:59
Hockey Canada says it’s reopening an investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving its World Junior team. In an open letter, the organization acknowledges it has not done enough to address the allegations and promises to do better.

With files from CBC News

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