Former Canadian sport minister Pascale St-Onge says she believes the national scrutiny about Hockey Canada over how it handled the allegations of sexual assault against members of the 2018 World Junior team may have helped advance the police investigation.
“After everything that’s known around how Hockey Canada conducted itself around sexual violence cases involving their players, I think it brought the whole situation to the forefront and probably helped get the police investigation moving,” St-Onge said on her way into a caucus meeting in Ottawa Thursday morning.
St-Onge, who is now heritage minister, declined further comment due to the allegations of that 2018 sexual assault still being investigated by the London Police Service.
News of the event first broke in May 2022 after TSN reported Hockey Canada had settled a civil lawsuit with the complainant. That report trigged a series of events, which included renewed investigations, as well as intense scrutiny focused on Hockey Canada that eventually led the entire board and leadership team to resign.
In a statement on the social media site X, Wednesday, Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough posted that there is a safe sport crisis in Canada.
“The reckoning that we are seeing in hockey and across the sport system is the result of brave survivors coming forward to share their lived experiences,” Qualtrough wrote. “There is a safe sport crisis in our country. As Minister of Sport and Physical Activity, my main priority is to embed accountability, integrity and safety into everything we do across the sport system.”
Toronto-based lawyer Greg Gilhooly says the matter should have been dealt with years ago. Gilhooly is also a survivor of abuse by former hockey coach Graham James, who was convicted of sexual abusing his players, including former NHLers Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury.
“Unfortunately, Hockey Canada’s actions slowed things down and prevented the right thing from happening when it should have happened years ago,” Gilhooly told Global News.
Five members of Canada’s 2018 World Juniors hockey team have been told to surrender to police and are set to face charges in relation to an alleged group sexual assault in London, Ont., according to a media report.
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The Globe and Mail first reported the development Wednesday, citing two sources with knowledge of the investigation who were not named because they were not authorized to speak on the case.
The players, who have not been charged yet, have been given a set period of time to present themselves at London police headquarters, the Globe reported. Global News has not independently confirmed the Globe reporting.
Several players who were members on the 2018 team have taken indefinite leaves of absence from their clubs over recent days, according to statements from their teams posted on the social media platform X and in public comments. Those players are Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames and former Ottawa Senators player Alex Formenton, who now plays in Switzerland.
There is no confirmation that the leaves are related to the Globe report.
Global News has reached out to agents representing all of the players taking leaves and legal representatives, as well as the NHL and NHL Players Association, but did not receive responses.
Foote’s agent previously told Global News in 2022 his client was not involved in the alleged sexual assault. A lawyer for Hart at the time said his client had not “engaged in any wrongdoing.” Dube’s agent said at the time his client “did not engage in any wrongdoing.” Attempts to contact representatives for McLeod and Formenton went unanswered.
Hockey Canada has not commented on the report.
On Wednesday, the London Police Service issued a statement saying that they are unable to provide comment on the Globe story but will hold a press conference on Feb. 5 to share further details.
Gilhooly says that now that this case appears to be entering the legal system it is important to let the process play out.
“We should be and are rightly concerned that the right things happen and that if anyone did anything wrong, they are punished and punished severely for it. But we don’t need to watch that happen. That shouldn’t be entertainment fodder for us,” he said.
Gilhooly says he believes the government has taken positive steps over the last couple of years but he says they could still do more.
“I think what has to happen is there has to be increasing accountability that ties funding to appropriate proper behavior,” Gilhooly said. “Unfortunately, for far too long, we’ve been far too reluctant to bring the hammer down on organizations that don’t do the right thing.”
The federal government restored its funding for Hockey Canada in April last year after pulling it in May 2022 following news of the settlement. This came after the organization met a series of conditions including becoming a signatory of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner.
Gilhooly says he believes this restoration was premature, because while Hockey Canada made positive steps, they were just first steps.
“It’s one thing for everybody to say the right things and to hire people to try to do the right things, but it’s another thing to see the institution actually in action, responding. And we don’t have enough evidence yet to say whether Hockey Canada is now doing the right thing or not,” he said. “I don’t mean to be critical because by all outward appearances, Hockey Canada is doing the right thing. But is it enough to have brought its financing back to it from the government? I think that’s a bit of a tough call.”
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