‘This is hockey culture’: Former players and supporters respond to Hockey Canada hearings

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By Michael Lee, Author of CTVNews.ca

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TORONTO, Canada (CTV Network) — Calls for a major restructuring at Hockey Canada continue following recent revelations about how the organization has handled previous sexual assault claims.

The House of Commons’ Canadian Heritage Committee has investigated the organization’s handling of previous allegations of attack, including creating a player fee-funded reserve to pay for “uninsured liabilities” such as sex abuse claims.

“I’m not surprised,” Brock McGillis, an LGBTQIA2S+ advocate and the first openly gay professional ice hockey player, told CTV News Channel on Thursday.

“This is hockey culture, this is what I’ve been saying since 2016 and it needs a complete overhaul.”

It was revealed Wednesday that Hockey Canada has paid $7.6 million in nine settlements since 1989 involving sexual assault and abuse claims.

Of that, $6.8 million related to settlements related to Graham James, a former junior hockey coach who was convicted of sexually abusing players.

The $7.6 million does not include an undisclosed amount from a settlement revealed in May with a woman who was suing Hockey Canada over an alleged sexual assault in London, Ontario involving members of the 2018 Canada junior hockey team . The allegations could not be proven in court.

Hockey Canada has resumed its independent investigation into the case, which allegedly took place after a Hockey Canada gala, and the law firm handling the case says it interviewed the complainant. The organization also plans to speak to nine players who were at the gala but were not interviewed during the initial investigation in 2018.

Hockey Canada executives said the woman chose not to speak to police or investigators and chose not to identify the players involved at the time.

Police in London, Ontario have since reopened their investigation into the 2018 team. Halifax Police are also investigating a historic alleged sexual assault by a group at the 2003 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.

Meanwhile, Hockey Canada has been criticized for maintaining a reserve called the National Equity Fund that comes from player fees to be used for “uninsured liabilities” including but not limited to sex abuse claims.

Hockey Canada has since said it would no longer use the fund to settle sexual assault claims.

“I find it disgusting, I find it sad,” McGillis said of the reserve fund.

“…I mean, to play AAA hockey, parents pay upwards of $20,000 a year for their child to play, and then they find out that some of that money goes towards paying victims of sexual assault. And also, instead of doing proactive things like using money to really change the culture and humanizing issues and educating people, we’re using it in reactive ways to pay victims and silence them.”

CALLS FOR THE RESIGNATION OF THE HOCKEY CANADA LEADERSHIP

McGillis and others have called for a leadership change at Hockey Canada.

Among those calling for the resignation of Hockey Canada President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Smith is former NHL player and victims’ rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy. Kennedy has been vocal about a culture change in hockey after he himself was abused by then-coach Graham James.

Kennedy shared a statement on Twitter Tuesday after Hockey Canada released an “action plan” to combat the “toxic” culture in its sport.

Smith has said that while an ongoing governance review may reveal he isn’t the best person for the role, he believes he is “the right person to lead Hockey Canada to a new place.”

Politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have also targeted Hockey Canada. In June, the federal government stopped funding the organization.

McGillis said recent events could prove to be a “turning point” for Hockey Canada, but noted that it will depend on a new leadership team and board of directors being installed.

“I’m not completely optimistic yet, but I’m more encouraged than I’ve been in the past six years that I’ve been doing this work,” he said.

Brady Leavold, a former Canadian Hockey League player and founder of Puck Support, an organization focused on substance abuse and mental health in hockey, told the CTV News Channel on Wednesday that Hockey Canada “stands out as one of the country’s leading organizations must rise up and go beyond.”

“I think originally I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt, but as more and more things come out I’m becoming quite aware that the trust has been broken and this is one of the most respected organizations here in Canada,” he said.

“And whether it was or not, I think people here need to be able to trust those in charge and in my opinion, sitting here today, I think they’re doing their duty of care and doing the right thing for everyone do and have to resign.”

In a statement released Thursday, Ann Pegoraro, a professor at the University of Guelph and co-director of the National Network for Research on Gender Equity in Canadian Sport, said if Hockey Canada is to win back Canadians’ trust, executives would have to resign.

She also called for more diversity in sports management as a whole.

“You really can’t solve problems like this if you have the same people and mindset that created the problems in the first place,” she said in the statement.

With files from CTV News and The Canadian Press

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