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Hockey Canada investigation: Your questions answered

OTTAWA — When Hockey Canada officials testified for two-and-a-half hours Monday before the Heritage Committee, they faced a barrage of questions from four parties of the Members of Parliament.

But as many questions were answered, so many more were raised. Here, we try to dig deeper to help clarify some of the biggest and most important topics covered in the hearing.

Editor’s Note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be distressing for some readers.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.

Why was Hockey Canada appearing before a Parliamentary committee about a settled civil suit?

Hockey Canada relies on funding from the federal government, to the tune of six percent of its annual budget, or about $7.8 million. Although the MPs were uniformly horrified by the allegations of sexual assault of a woman by eight CHL players, at least some of whom were on the 2018 world junior team, the original intent of the committee was to discover if taxpayers’ money was used to pay for the settlement prompted by a civil suit by the woman.

In the statement of claim in the case, of which Sportsnet has obtained a copy, the woman was seeking $3.55 million in damages. The final settlement amount is not known.

Was this a criminal proceeding?

The hearing was not a criminal proceeding, and charges were not possible coming out of it. However, information uncovered in the hearing could be used by authorities to initiate a new investigation, and actions requested by the committee — such as documents being requested and witnesses being called — are ultimately to be obeyed.

Who testified on Monday?

Testifying under oath were Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, who is officially stepping down on July 1; Hockey Canada president; Hockey Canada chief operating officer Scott Smith; and Hockey Canada Foundation chair Dave Andrews.

Former Hockey Canada director of risk management Glen McCurdie was called to attend but was excused by the committee on compassionate grounds because his father recently passed away. Also attending but not testifying was Andrew Winton, a Hockey Canada lawyer.

What are the basic facts of the civil case?

On April 20, a woman filed a civil lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight CHL players in Ontario Superior Court in London, Ont. In the lawsuit, the woman says she was sexually assaulted by eight CHL players – including some members of the 2017-18 Canadian World Junior Championship team – in a London hotel room after a Hockey Canada Foundation golf and gala event on June 18, 2018. The woman chose not to reveal her identity, nor the identities of the eight players, and they are referred to in the lawsuit as John Does 1-8.

The lawsuit was settled in May, and the case has not been heard in a court of law. Terms of the settlement have not been released.

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Does Hockey Canada know who the eight John Does are?

Hockey Canada said on Monday that it does not know the identities of the eight John Does, citing the “incomplete” investigation by third-party Toronto-based law firm Henein Hutchison LLP. Smith said neither the law firm nor the London police could identify the John Does because the woman has not identified them.

Smith would not answer a question from MP Sebastien Lemire about what Hockey Canada would do if a player identified as one of the John Does. Smith said Hockey Canada did not mandate or order all the players on the team to participate in the investigation.

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Will the report by the law firm be released?

In an exchange between Smith and committee vice-chair John Nater, Smith said Hockey Canada would not want to submit the report because it was incomplete. Nater responded that the committee could compel Hockey Canada to submit the report.

What is the timeline of events around Hockey Canada’s investigation?

Renney said Hockey Canada was notified by the woman’s step-father in the morning of June 19, 2018, which is shortly after the incident occurred. Hockey Canada discussed the report internally — Smith said he and Renney were on a plane flying back to Calgary during part of the day — and its officials reported it to the London Police Service at around 6-7 p.m. ET.

The law firm was contacted by Hockey Canada in the early stages of the investigation. Sports Canada was informed of the incident on June 26, 2018. Renney said speculation that the incident was “covered up” is “inaccurate.” Smith later added he “adamantly” opposes the suggestion the incident was covered up. In February 2019, Hockey Canada was notified that there would be no further investigation by London police. Hockey Canada continued its investigation and suspended it in September 2020 because it could not identify the eight John Does and did not get a statement from the woman.

Renney said early in the hearing that four to six players participated in the investigation, but Smith later said he thought that number was more like 12-13.

“The independent investigation we commissioned could not ultimately be completed because the young woman chose not to speak to the investigator,” Renney said in his opening statement. “That was her right and we respected her wishes, just as we continue to respect her clear and repeated wishes to not identify herself or the players involved.

“While we understand the public’s frustration that the players involved have never been identified or disciplined, the young woman has agency in this matter, and we encourage everyone to give appropriate consideration and deference to her fundamental desire for privacy above all else.”

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So who is investigating the incident?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final last week that the league, with the cooperation of the NHLPA, was conducting an investigation into the incident.

If Hockey Canada was unable to complete its investigation, why did it settle the lawsuit?

“We settled the claim quickly because we felt a moral obligation to respond to the alleged behavior that occurred at one of our events by players who attended at our invitation,” Renney said in his opening statement. “We felt that the right response to the woman’s legal request was one that did not require her to participate in a prolonged court proceeding. The settlement enables her to seek whatever support she might require as she tries to move past this incident.”

Was taxpayer money used to pay for the settlement?

Smith said Hockey Canada “liquidated some of its investments” to pay for the settlement. He added that Hockey Canada looks forward to the audit requested by minister of sport Pascale St-Onge and that no government funding was used.

Are other, unrelated investigations being conducted into similar incidents?

“In recent years, I believe we have reported three incidents of assault as required, and I know this is one of them,” Smith said. “I cannot comment on the level of investigation of the other two. I do not have that information in front of me.

“My understanding is that we’ve had one to two cases on an annual basis over the last five to six years. I apologize, I can’t give you more detail. I will tell you that one in the last five to six years, not one to two each year, one in the last five to six years is too many. And that’s why we’re driven to change the culture in this game.”

What is Hockey Canada doing to prevent this from happening again?

Renney and Smith both said Hockey Canada strengthened its code of conduct for players in the fall of 2018, adding training sessions around sexual assault, bullying and harassment. Renney said events such as the gala fall into a “blurred” area because it’s not an on-ice activity, which are more strictly overseen by Hockey Canada, but anticipated tightening that up so that off-ice events were also covered by the code of conduct. Smith added that Hockey Canada also recently hired a director of safe sport, who will build out a department to better educate players, coaches, etc.

What punishment could Hockey Canada levy if it found out the identify of the John Does?

That’s a good question. Hockey Canada has players on its national teams for only a short time, so real punishment in cases such as these is unclear. Hockey Canada could suspend players from future international play, for instance, such as playing for Canada in the Olympics or the world championships. The real punishment could result from the NHL’s investigation.

“On the advice of our third-party investigator, we were not able to impose sanctions,” Smith said. “They advised us that would lack due process for them. It’s not something we take lightly. I’ve said multiple times that, if further information were to come forward, we would re-engage the investigative process and we will handle the investigation and any potential discipline exactly the way we intended it to be handled in the summer of 2018. We take responsibility. We hold accountability for this.”

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What’s going to happen next?

The committee is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday, 3:30-5:30 p.m. ET, ahead of the expected Parliamentary summer recess on Thursday. The Parliamentary docket states the meeting will be in camera, which means closed to the public. Speculation by one MP on the committee was that next steps would be determined at that meeting, but it was unlikely more witnesses would be called. The MP added that most of the committee members would attend via video conferencing and not physically attend. But ultimately the direction of the committee will be set by chair Hedy Fry.

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