OTTAWA – Perth-Wellington MP John Nater has called for the resignation of Hockey Canada’s CEO and a shakeup of the organization’s leadership in the wake of historic sexual assault allegations involving top Canadian junior hockey teams.
A second Canadian junior national team was accused of a group sexual assault in allegations revealed last week.
On July 22, TSN reported that Halifax police have opened a criminal investigation into sexual assault allegations related to the 2003 Canadian World Junior hockey team.
Hockey Canada also released a statement on July 22 noting it “heard a rumour about something bad; at the 2003 World Juniors” two weeks ago.
The statement also said that Hockey Canada has hired a third-party investigator “to try to find out more information.”
The statement was released by Hockey Canada following a July 21 statement to TSN from Nater, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
According to TSN, Nater planned to ask Hockey Canada on July 27 to respond to the allegations that more than a half-dozen players on the 2003 World Junior team were recorded having sex with a woman who was naked and non-responsive.
“Earlier this week I was contacted by an individual who claimed to have information regarding an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2002-03 National Junior Team,” Nater wrote in a statement on July 22.
“I have forwarded the information they provided to the Halifax Police, where the alleged incident took place, and encouraged them to contact police immediately.”
Nater added, “I encourage anyone who may have information on the alleged sexual assault to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.
“I expect Hockey Canada to fully co-operate and support any investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse within the organization.”
Nater further stated the individual has requested not to be identified.
The MP, who received the information on the 2003 incident on July 21, told Midwestern Newspapers he believes the individual contacted him due to his role on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, as well as his involvement in public hearings on a 2018 alleged sexual assault involving eight former Canadian Hockey League players.
“Because I was in somewhat of a public role right now with the with the Hockey Canada file, I think they felt that I was the one of the people that they should contact,” Nater explained.
“And so they contacted me and then I encouraged them to also contact the Halifax police directly, which I did as well.”
As of Monday, four players from the 2003 team – Jordin Tootoo, Carlo Colaiacovo, P-A Parenteau and Nathan Paetsch – have issued statements saying they were not involved in the alleged incident and that they will co-operate fully with any investigation.
The allegations against the 2003 team were made public just days before the Heritage committee was scheduled to hold two days of hearings on July 26 and 27 in regards to a 2018 alleged sexual assault involving eight former Canadian Hockey League players, some of whom were members of Canada’s gold medal-winning 2018 World Junior team.
A woman not named in court documents filed a lawsuit in April against Hockey Canada and referred to the eight players as “John Does 1 to 8.”
Hockey Canada and police in London, Ontario have reopened their investigations into the 2018 incident.
Action plan announced
On July 25, Hockey Canada announced a “comprehensive action plan to address systemic issues in hockey and ensure greater safety and inclusiveness in and around Canada’s game.”
Officials say the action plan “is an important step in upholding Hockey Canada’s responsibility to address toxic behaviours – both on and off the ice – that conflict with what Canadians expect hockey to be and to confront the culture of silence that exists in corners of the game.”
The plan, which can be read online at hockeycanada.ca, includes commitments in areas of accountability, governance, independent sport safety checks, and standards, education and training.
One of the notable actions is implementing a comprehensive tracking and reporting system for all complaints of maltreatment, abuse or harassment. Officials say the results will be published publicly annually to hold Hockey Canada accountable.
Also announced with plans to implement “enhanced character screening for all high-performance players” and “mandating that breaking the Code of Conducts of failing to participate in any investigation could result in a lifetime ban from Hockey Canada programs.”
“We recognize that there is an urgent need to address the types of behaviours that are rightly causing Canadians to question aspects of our game,” said Scott Smith, president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada.
“Culture change will not occur overnight, but with this action plan we are fully committed to making the meaningful changes necessary to ensure the safety, welfare and well-being of everyone who participates in, and enjoys the sport of hockey.”
MP says changes necessary
During the public hearings, Nater joined calls for Smith to step down.
“I think what we seen with Hockey Canada’s organization is that the culture has to change and that culture isn’t going to change with seeing the same people in place who have been leading the organization for the past decade or more,” the MP said in a July 28 telephone interview.
“What we’ve seen, especially with this 2018 incident, is that there’s a culture of secrecy, a culture of keeping things quiet, and that’s frankly not conducive to a shift in the culture and shift in how the organization responds to serious allegations.”
Smith has so far resisted calls to resign, but said he would do so if the Hockey Canada board of directors calls for him to step down.
Nater said changes to the leadership of the organization need to go beyond Smith.
“There has to be a complete change in the governance structure within Hockey Canada … part of the problem is that there is a very strong top-down leadership, CEO-driven organization, where, things like the Hockey Foundation weren’t even made aware of the accusations, let alone a settlement, until they found out from the media; where the board of directors of Hockey Canada doesn’t seem to be kept in the loop on important issues; where actual minutes and notes aren’t even kept from records of decisions making settlements with these types of things,” he said.
“So I think all of that needs to change and, and with it, a lot of the individuals within the organization who pushed along that top-down process.”
Nater said the revelation that payments to victims of alleged sexual assault came from a National Equity Fund, which was generated from player registration fees is concerning.
“You’re talking about minor sport leagues across the country, where moms and dads and families pay for registration fees … Now we’ve learned yesterday they’ve paid $7.6 million worth of settlement payments,” he said.
“So I think that was one of the things that we found out yesterday that I thought was disappointing to say the least – troubling.”
Nater said the “secrecy of Hockey Canada as an organization” has also been a revelation.
“I think that’s something that’s come out throughout the last six weeks … is how much information has been kept quiet from the public, from Sport, Canada, from the whole gamut. I think that’s the other thing that’s been exceptionally unfortunate throughout this process.”
Although the hearings are over for now, Nater said he expects the information-gathering process to continue.
“We’ve received a large amount of documents from Hockey Canada. We’ll be reviewing those in the weeks and days and weeks ahead. The House of Commons will be resuming in September. I expect that we’ll have further hearings at that point,” said Nater.
“I’m hearing from the witnesses that were unable to attend this most recent set of hearings.
“So I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in September to kind of further this long.”
-With files from Patrick Raftis