Hockey Canada reopens investigation into alleged 2018 sexual assault


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In response to fallout from its handling of sexual assault allegations against members of the country’s 2018 world junior team, Hockey Canada on Thursday issued an open letter outlining several planned organizational changes, including a reopening of its probe of the alleged assault.

“We know 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 behavior within our game,” the sport’s national governing body said in a statement. “For that we unreservedly apologize. We know we need to do more to address the behaviours, on and off the ice, that conflict with what Canadians want hockey to be, and which undermine the many good things that the game brings to our country.”

Hockey Canada’s response stems from an incident in which a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team that June after a Hockey Canada Foundation golf event. That led to a criminal investigation by police that was closed in 2019. A separate investigation was conducted by a law firm hired by Hockey Canada; it ended in 2020.

The NHL announced in May that it would “endeavor to determine the underlying facts and, to the extent this may involve players who are now in the NHL, we will determine what action, if any, would be appropriate.”

Through the law firm’s investigation, players from the team were “strongly encouraged” to cooperate with the probe, but Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith testified to Canadian lawmakers last month that “12 or 13” of the 19 players from the team were interviewed. Former CEO Tom Renney called the subsequent report incomplete and said it should not be released.

Now, Hockey Canada says it will reopen the investigation and require all players to participate. It said those who don’t “will be banned from all Hockey Canada activities and programs effective immediately.” Once complete, an independent adjudicative panel “will determine the appropriate consequences, which may include a lifetime ban from Hockey Canada activity, on and off the ice.”

Hockey Canada said it will require players, coaches and staff in its high-performance program to participate in sexual violence and consent training beginning this summer. The organization also announced plans to create a “fully independent and confidential channel to investigate complaints — even those historical in nature.”

“Changes to policies and procedures can occur with the stroke of a pen,” Hockey Canada said in the open letter. “Those changes are meaningless, however, without an equal commitment to addressing the toxic behavior that exists in many corners of the game. We know this change will not occur overnight, but we are committed to learning, and working with our partners to do better.”

The woman, who sought $3.55 million in damages in a lawsuit filed in April, settled with Hockey Canada for an undisclosed amount in May. News of the alleged assault and the settlement led Canadian lawmakers to question Smith and Renney last month about the organization’s response to the allegations. Canadian Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said the government would freeze Hockey Canada’s federal funding, and several corporations with ties to Hockey Canada paused their sponsorships of the organization, including Tim Hortons and Scotiabank.

In its letter, Hockey Canada said it intends to release an action plan outlining internal steps to make additional strides “to advance and improve the culture around our game.”

“Reopening the investigation is a step towards addressing the disappointment so many feel about the outcome of the process we followed,” it said. “Our organization has strived to work in the best interest of Canadians, but we recognize many of the actions we are taking now should have been taken sooner, and faster. We own that and will do better to deliver on our responsibilities to Canadians.”

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