Warning: This story contains sexually explicit details that may disturb the reader
As calls grow for the leaders of Canada’s national ice hockey organization to step down over sexual misconduct scandals, Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge is calling for “changes” within the organization.
St-Onge told CBC News. The house She was horrified by details of a video, said a source they saw of an alleged 2003 group sexual assault involving that year’s World Junior Hockey players.
Asked if the news of the video and other recent misconduct scandals should lead to resignations from Hockey Canada executives, St-Onge said the organization had “lost the trust of Canadians.”
“I’m just as concerned as all Canadians,” she said. “Also my parliamentary colleagues who have called for the resignation of the board and directors.
“I have the same feeling that there needs to be changes within the organization.
“I’m using all the tools I have … to create and enforce this change at Hockey Canada. But at some point they have to look to themselves too…Are they the right people to implement the change Canadians are demanding? They have to take responsibility for what happens in their own organization and so far that hasn’t been enough.”
The comment is one of the strongest St-Onge has made about the leadership of Hockey Canada. She previously said more diversity was needed in top positions in the hockey organization and on the board.
“Extremely disturbing and frightening”
A man who said he viewed the video told CBC News he recently gave police the names of two players he recognized from the footage who were making careers in the NHL.
The man said the video showed the two players walking into a hotel room where about six other players stood naked and masturbated around a heavily intoxicated woman while a person entered her.
“This is extremely worrying and frightening,” St-Onge said. “I think it’s pretty clear that there are problems within this sport.
“Failure to hold accountable players who committed these alleged assaults is a major concern for society.”
Police are investigating three alleged sexual assault allegations by former junior hockey players. The allegations span the period from 2003 to 2018.
All are said to involve a group of players humiliating a lonely, drunk woman. None of the allegations were proven in court.
“Culture of Silence”
When asked if those three cases were just the tip of the iceberg, St-Onge said it was hard to know.
“It shows that there is a problem within sport and with the culture of silence,” she said.
To date, only one member of Hockey Canada’s leadership – Chairman Michael Brind’Amour – has resigned early.
Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean confirmed to CBC News that a crisis management firm hired by Hockey Canada recently rescinded an offer to place her on an oversight group because it made it clear she wanted to remove members of the leadership.
St-Onge said she could not ask Hockey Canada leaders to resign because all government-funded sports organizations are independent. But she said the organization needs to look at itself and take responsibility for what is happening.
Since becoming sports minister more than eight months ago, her office said she has been made aware of a multitude of allegations against at least eight different sports organizations.
The allegations include sexual violence, abuse and psychological abuse, St Onge said. In some cases, she added, coaches have been accused of pushing the limit and pushing athletes too far to do their best.
In April, St-Onge announced that Canada would open the first Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner to oversee a grievance process, conduct preliminary investigations and maintain a database of sanctions imposed.
This new office began accepting incident reports on June 20.
Sports Integrity Commissioner Sarah-Eve Pelletier told CBC News her office can only investigate incidents involving the national sports organizations that have signed up.
Negotiations to get more than 40 sports organizations to join the commissioner’s office – over issues like insurance and legal responsibility – are underway, Pelletier said. Only four organizations have joined the initiative so far: Canada Games Council, Canada Sport for Life, Volleyball Canada and Weightlifting Canada.
This means that the office has to reject complaints from other organisations.
“Right now, when people can’t have their grievances handled by us, it may not be a good use of time for them to file a grievance,” Pelletier told CBC News. “Because unfortunately it can’t go on at the moment.”
Hotline under fire
Some cases may be referred to Sport Canada, which established a sports helpline in 2018.
This hotline recently came under fire for its handling of hockey complaints. CBC News reported this month that until recently, callers to this hotline wanting to report bad hockey experiences were referred to either a law firm or an insurance claims adjuster — both chosen by Hockey Canada.
The law firm — Henein Hutchinson — is a well-known criminal defense firm known for high-profile court cases, some of which involve defending people accused of sexual assault. St-Onge said she’s heard from athletes who say third-party organizations that get paid directly by sports organizations don’t feel “independent enough”.
Henein’s firm was hired by Hockey Canada to investigate allegations of sexual assault by members of the 2018 World Junior Team in London, Ontario.
Hockey Canada vowed to join the Office of the Sports Integrity Officer last month to address so-called “toxic behavior” both on and off the ice. This has not happened yet.
St-Onge said sports organizations like Hockey Canada had until April 2023 to file with the Office of the Sports Integrity Officer. When asked why the office opened before all sports organizations had signed on, St-Onge said the sports officer is independent and responsible for their operations.
“What we did as a government was put $16 million in the last budget so they have all the resources they need to put this new system in place,” she said.
“We are creating something new in Canada that has never been seen before.”
Pelletier said her office is still in its infancy and is working “hard and fast” to begin preventing and responding to reports of abuse and discrimination.
“There is simply no place for any form of abuse in sport,” Pelletier said. “We will work hard to fulfill our mandate and be part of the change that the sporting system needs at the moment.”
A House of Commons committee holding public hearings on Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault allegations is expected to resume next month when Parliament returns.