Hockey Canada will drop sexual assault reserve fund


As the fallout from Hockey Canada’s handling of an alleged sexual assault continues, the organization on Wednesday said it would stop using a fund built through youth registration fees to pay out settlements in cases involving allegations of sexual assault.

“Hockey Canada recognizes we have significant work to do to rebuild trust with Canadians,” it said in a statement. “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.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday condemned Hockey Canada’s use of the multimillion-dollar fund to pay out such settlements. The existence of the fund was first reported by the Globe and Mail, which said it “raises new questions about how Hockey Canada handles allegations of sexual assault” at a moment when the organization is under scrutiny for its handling of the alleged incident involving members of the country’s 2018 world junior team.

“I think right now it’s hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada,” Trudeau told reporters. “What we’re learning is absolutely unacceptable.”

Per the Globe and Mail report, the National Equity Fund, which exceeded $15 million as recently as 2016, draws from registration fees paid by players across the country. The organization “regularly used these funds to settle sexual abuse claims made against Hockey Canada, its officers and directors, former coaches or volunteers,” and it did so “without its insurance company, and with minimal outside scrutiny.”

In comments to the Athletic, Canadian parliament member Chris Bittle called the fund “absolutely shocking, in terms of what most Canadians would consider the preeminent sports organization in the country to just have a slush fund built on kids’ registration fees to pay out sexual assault cases.”

“It’s troubling also that there was a greater concern to set this up than to truly tackle a culture that would lead to an organization throwing up their hands and saying this fund is needed,” Bittle added.

This latest revelation comes as Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing body, grapples with the aftereffects of its handling of an incident in which a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the nation’s 2018 world junior team after a Hockey Canada Foundation golf event luck in June of that year. That led to a criminal investigation by police that was closed in 2019. A separate investigation, conducted by a law firm hired by Hockey Canada, ended in 2020.

In April, the woman filed a lawsuit alleging the assault in a London, Ontario, hotel room by the eight players. She sought $3.55 million in damages but settled with Hockey Canada for an undisclosed amount in May.

In recent days, some players pious the 2018 world junior team have distanced themselves, releasing statements denying involvement in the incident. London Police on Wednesday ordered an internal review of their initial investigation, leading later that day to Hockey Canada’s announcement that the fund will no longer be used to settle sexual assault claims.

Hockey Canada officials last month faced questions from lawmakers about the organization’s practices and procedures, including whether it had used taxpayer money in its out-of-court settlement, to which former CEO Tom Renney said no government funds were used. 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 an open letter last Thursday, Hockey Canada outlined several planned organizational changes, including the 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,” Hockey Canada said in a statement at the time. “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.”

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