Over the past five months, the Canadian hockey world has been rocked by one of the biggest scandals in its history.
Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the next number one draft pick from the minors or who will be the next coach of the national team. Hockey Canada (and Canada’s hockey culture as a whole) is being upended for its mishandling of sexual misconduct involving its athletes.
What is Hockey Canada?
Let’s first go over what Hockey Canada is since it’s a confusing but very important and powerful part of the Canadian hockey world.
Hockey Canada, founded in 1914, is commonly defined as the “national governing body of ice hockey and ice sledge hockey in Canada.” It is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and control the majority of Canada’s organized ice hockey. Around 10,000 minor junior players and 1000 major junior players are registered in leagues that are governed by it. The organization runs seven national championships, four international competitions, and is involved with over 10 other smaller hockey organizations across the country.
Hockey Canada is known and understood as a major player in Canada’s dominance on the global hockey stage and why the country continues to cherish the sport generation after generation; however, recently it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
The Cover-Up Scandal
In May 2022, it was reported that Hockey Canada had paid a settlement to a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by members of the Canadian men’s national junior team in 2018. Only a few weeks later, the Federal Minister for Sport, Pascale St-Onge, froze all federal government funding to the organization, calling for an investigation into whether public funds were used in this settlement.
This inquiry revealed a history of sexual misconduct cases that had been settled using $7.6 million CAD out of a “National Equity Fund.” Twenty-one cases have been settled using this fund since 1989. Not only had this fund been made up of public money, but it was also fueled by player registration fees from association leagues and organizations run by Hockey Canada.
This inquiry also prompted more investigation into the hockey culture that contributed to these sexual misconduct cases. Fifth Estate, an investigative journalism team from the public broadcaster in Canada the CBC, wrote a lengthy article detailing this culture and the specific cases that Hockey Canada chose to cover up and settle. They alleged that 15 cases of group sexual assault involving junior hockey players had been reported since 1989. Any charges filed in any of the cases were dropped and ‘resolved’ with peace bond pledges. Fifth Estate concluded that hockey has encouraged the “pursuit of women as a team sport” after several NHL players shared their insights into the culture growing up.
Just last week it was revealed that a second fund had been created under the name “Participant’s Legacy Trust Fund,” also to settle accusations. It was determined by the Canadian parliament that the name of the fund was obviously in place to obscure its true purpose.
This provoked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to state that the government has “lost confidence” in the Hockey Canada leadership. Calls for a full re-evaluation of the organization and overhaul of its leadership have come from all sides of the government, including joint statements across political parties from the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDPs.
The first resignation came last weekend when the interim chair, Andrea Skinner, stepped down. This meant very little to those calling for change. Sports Minister St-Onge stated that, while there's much more to be done, it’s a “step in the right direction.” Although, the public remained restless. Skinner had only taken the position in August 2022, so on top of being one of the few women involved in the highest positions in the organization, the move seemed rather meaningless to this multi-decade-long scheme.
This public pressure worked. As of Tuesday, October 11, Hockey Canada announced that its entire board of directors and CEO, Scott Smith, would be stepping down immediately.
Other major developments in the scandal include major sponsors withdrawing their support and funding from Hockey Canada. The first to do so was major Canadian food chain, Tim Horton’s, known widely for its participation in hockey culture. This was followed closely by Hockey Canada’s premier marketing partner, Nike. Scotiabank, one of Canada’s biggest banks, dropped out for the season. This includes its sponsorship of the World Junior Championship. Other major Canadian companies include Telus and Canadian Tire and partnerships like Skip the Dishes, Hockey New Brunswick, Hockey Quebec, Hockey Nova Scotia, and the Ontario Hockey Federation. If the public, governmental, and moral pressure hasn’t encouraged change so far, this damaging impact on Hockey Canada’s funding must trigger something.
Long Road Ahead
There are many dimensions to this scandal that go much deeper than just transparency from an organization that is involved in the daily lives, financials, and careers of Canadian families. At its core, this scandal has prompted a much needed internal investigation of hockey culture and how the sports culture has resulted in severely misguided individuals and their actions.
If there’s anything to learn from this investigation, it should be that sport plays a major influential role in many children and young adults' formative years. How these sports are governed will directly impact their decisions and how they interact with the world, so this needs to be taken care of in a much more transparent and progressive manner.