Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Federal government freezing Hockey Canada funding: St-Onge

“Hockey Canada’s testimony did not provide us with sufficient information.”

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Hockey Canada’s federal funding is being frozen in the wake of the national organization’s handling of an alleged sexual assault and out-of-court settlement.

Minster for Sport Pascale St-Onge said in a statement Wednesday that Hockey Canada will only have funding restored once it discloses the recommendations of improvement provided by a third-party law firm hired to investigate the alleged incident four years ago.

Hockey Canada must also become signatories to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, a new government agency with the power to independently investigate abuse complaints and sanction inappropriate behaviour.

“Hockey Canada will receive no more payments or new funding from Sport Canada until they comply with these conditions,” St-Onge’s statement read.

The move comes after Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney were grilled by MPs earlier this week during a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage hearing into the organization’s response to the alleged sexual assault involving eight players.

“Hockey Canada’s testimony did not provide us with sufficient information,” St-Onge said in her statement. “We did not learn much, and what we did learn is deeply troubling.”

Hockey Canada quietly settled the lawsuit last month after a woman claimed she was assaulted by members of the country’s 2018 gold-medal winning world junior hockey team in June of that year at a Hockey Canada function in London, Ont.

The woman, now 24, was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and the unnamed players. Details of the settlement have not been made public, but Smith said Monday no government or insurance money was used.

St-Onge has said she only learned of the allegations and settlement two days before TSN broke the story late last month after receiving a phone call from Renney.

A spokeswoman for Hockey Canada did not reply to an email request for comment Wednesday.

Hockey Canada hired Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to conduct its investigation, but Smith and Renney told MPs players present at the event in London were not mandated to participate.

Renney initially said between four and six of the 19 players in question spoke with investigators before Smith indicated later the number was 12 or 13.

Hockey Canada has said repeatedly the woman decided against speaking with police or its investigators. Smith and Renney reiterated Monday the woman also chose not to identify the players.

Smith said London police informed Hockey Canada its criminal investigation was closed as of February 2019. The independent investigation ended in September 2020, but Renney said the report is incomplete and shouldn’t be released.

“There is not much more that we have to offer in terms of information along those lines,” he testified Monday.

“Hockey Canada said they would not share with the committee the advice they received from the independent firm … or how they plan to respond,” St-Onge said Wednesday. “We also heard that the independent investigation was not completed, nor were the eight John Doe players identified.

“This is unacceptable.”

The NHL, which also only recently learned of the allegations, is conducting its own investigation because some of the players in question are now in the league.

Hockey Canada received $14 million from Ottawa in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in COVID-19 subsidies, according to government records obtained by CBC and TSN.

Smith testified Hockey Canada has reported three sexual assault complaints in recent years, including the London incident, but wouldn’t discuss the other two in front of the committee.

“I cannot comment on the level of investigation of the other two,” said Smith, adding there have one to two complaints of sexual misconduct each of the last five or six years.

Not good enough, according to St-Onge.

“I cannot accept this standard as business as usual in our national sport organizations,” she said. “And Canadians should not either.”

Federal money makes up six per cent of Hockey Canada’s funding, according to the organization’s numbers, trailing business development and partnerships (43 per cent), funding agencies (14 per cent), insurance premiums (13 per cent) and interest revenue (10 per cent).