Handling sexual abuse lawsuits puts Hockey Canada on thin ice with hockey parents


When parents first think about the dangers of their children’s hockey games, they may picture flying pucks, elbows and sticks—not a toxic culture.

But recent revelations about how Hockey Canada, the organization that governs the sport in that country, has dealt with sexual assault allegations has sent some hockey families into an uproar for repeatedly turning black eyes on their beloved sport.

Hockey Canada is under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual assault by former players and the resources it has used to resolve related lawsuits.

“The more that comes out, the more frustrated people get,” said Theresa Bailey, a hockey mom who has mentored her own three players in Madoc, Ontario, for 17 years.

Well, a poll by Angus Reid suggests that most Canadians — 58 percent — said they think sexual harassment and assault is a “major issue” in youth hockey, and they have weak confidence the culture is changing by Hockey Canada will change.

Sexual misconduct “big issue” in youth hockey

The poll of more than 2,000 Canadians, conducted between Aug. 8 and 10, found those with a youth hockey connection were just as likely — 56 percent — that sexual misconduct was a big problem, “something that happens all the time happened”. Only 17 percent of respondents called it a “minor” issue.

Hockey Canada communications staff declined CBC’s request for an interview with new interim general manager Andrea Skinner.

The organization released an open letter on July 18 promising changes and outlining new grievance mechanisms and a review plan.

“We know you are angry and disappointed in Hockey Canada – rightly so. We know we haven’t done enough… to end the culture of toxic behavior in our game. We apologize unreservedly for this.”

But many are not convinced.

The summer edition of the World Junior Hockey Championships opened last week with a message to young players from Canada’s Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge, in which she addressed the sexual assault scandals and called them “unacceptable”.

Fans did not flock to the tournament.

Some blame the summer heat, others say it’s the taint of the scandal.

“I wonder if it puts a bad taste in their mouths to parents who haven’t enrolled their kids yet or are concerned about the culture. The stands are empty at World Juniors,” said Bailey, who founded an online advice site called Canadian Hockey Moms.

People are divided about watching some of these games because they don’t want to condone what’s going on.”

CLOCK | Poll reveals how Canadians feel about Hockey Canada scandals:

Canadians are split over recent Hockey Canada controversies, a poll shows

A new poll showing how Canadians feel about recent Hockey Canada controversies and how allegations of sexual misconduct have been dealt with suggests a divide between men and women and those who have a connection to hockey and those who don’t do this.

More than $7 million has been paid out to settle cases

Hockey Canada says it has paid out $8.9 million in sexual assault settlements since 1989, including $6.8 million related to serial abuser Graham James.

That doesn’t include the secret settlement in a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by eight former CHL payers after a 2018 event in London, Ontario.

The state hockey board has come under fire since the settlements were announced, particularly for using $7.6 million from its National Equity Fund to compensate victims of sexual assault — money that came from player fees.

The same fund was also used to pay for the services of a law firm investigating the alleged sexual assault of a woman in London, Ontario by members of the Men’s World junior team.

Canada also learned that Sport Canada — a government agency that develops safety guidelines — was briefed on allegations in 2018 and did not act.

CLOCK | Hockey Canada Officials Reveal Payouts for Sexual Misconduct Settlements:

Hockey Canada has paid 21 sexual misconduct settlements since 1989

Hockey Canada officials said the organization has paid nearly $9 million in settlements to 21 people alleging sexual misconduct since 1989.

funds frozen

In June, Canada’s sports minister called for a financial audit and immediately froze government funding of Hockey Canada.

This comes days after outgoing CEO Tom Renney and President Scott Smith testified before the Canadian Heritage Standing Committee.

All of this fuels critics who have long been calling for change.

Greg Gilhooly, an attorney who survived sexual abuse at the hands of Winnipeg’s junior hockey coach and convicted sex offender Graham James, recounted The current Host Matt Galloway that Hockey Canada’s leadership needs help.

“You are overwhelmed. Many of these officers were regional hockey coaches. They are phenomenally good at executing the neutral zone trap, but they are ill-equipped to manage a national organization’s response to a sexual assault crisis,” he told Gilhooly.

Canada’s Logan Stankoven (10) is checked by Finland’s Samuel Helenius (20) during the second period of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship August 15 in Edmonton. Participation in the tournament has decreased. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

critics repressed

Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goalie, says hockey’s “closed” culture is also a big problem.

“It’s crazy that I can go to every school in Canada and speak and I can point out the hockey kids. They dress the same. You’re about to speak. You’re going in a moment,” he said.

As one of the first openly gay men’s professional hockey players, McGillis fought insults and verbal abuse.

“Culture disruptors were never allowed into this room. We were edged out from the start,” he said.

Two-time Olympian Allison Forsyth, a safe sport advocate and sexual abuse survivor, says she is “sad” at what she describes as an active cover-up of “horrific abuse.”

The mother-of-two hockey players says Hockey Canada needs to be transparent to win back parents who might just choose a different sport.

“I truly believe that sport can still be a great place to raise your children – but you need to be aware of the current situation and ask critical questions of your local organization,” Forsyth told CBC.

Carey Durrant is not shocked by the current abuse scandal.

The 55-year-old hockey coach from Trenton, Ontario has long been critical of Hockey Canada and the mechanisms used to ensure player safety. It always scares him when he sees parents on an ice rink who don’t know where their children are.

He looked closely when his own son was still playing.

As a boy, Durrant was molested by former Toronto Maple Leafs equipment manager Gordon Stuckless, who was convicted in 2016 of more than 100 felonies related to the sexual abuse of boys spanning three decades.

Hockey Canada says it has paid out $8.9 million in sexual assault settlements since 1989, with much of that money coming from the National Equity Fund. (PhotoDuets/Shutterstock)

“It was really important for me to come out and speak out about the abuse I had suffered,” Durrant said.

“As a parent, I paid money to Hockey Canada for my son’s development as an athlete. This money was used to pay someone else off, or if you want to call it ‘hush money’. I just think that’s absolutely wrong,” Durrant said.

Despite his own ordeal, Durrant has spent the last 38 years coaching hockey and credits him with saving him from suicide.

“It’s probably saved my life time and time again. It gave me something to live for,” Durrant said.

But he has long questioned the toxic parts of sports culture and governance.

“I was a bit disappointed with Hockey Canada. This is not the first time they have failed me and basically failed our country. Obviously there are uglier things rearing their heads. And I think there will be more coming out. It will only take brave people.”

The Angus Reid Institute online survey surveyed a representative randomized sample of 2,279 adult Canadians between August 8 and 10 of this year. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- two percentage points, 19 out of 20.


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