OTTAWA — Following revelations that it has paid millions of dollars to sexual assault victims, hockey’s governing body in Canada said on Thursday that a former Supreme Court justice will lead an investigation into the organization.
The appointment of the justice, Thomas Cromwell, comes amid growing calls to overhaul the organization, Hockey Canada, and to transform the often sexualized culture that surrounds a sport that looms above all others in the country.
Marquee sponsors have abandoned Hockey Canada and the federal government froze millions of dollars of its funding after a sports television network reported in May that court documents showed the group had paid 3.5 million Canadian dollars to settle a lawsuit by a woman who accused members of the world junior team of sexual assault in 2018.
After that, Hockey Canada officials testified at a House of Commons committee that it had used a special fund to cover 7.6 million dollars to settle nine sexual assault and sexual abuse claims since 1989.
Further allegations of sexual assault involving Canada’s 2003 world junior championship team emerged in July. Several Canadians, including some politicians, blame Hockey Canada’s lack of oversight of the players, who were 18 to 20 years old at the time of the accusations, for the incidents.
Mr. Cromwell’s investigation, which Hockey Canada said will start immediately, is one of a series that have been launched in recent weeks.
Last month, Hockey Canada announced that it would bring in an independent reviewer to determine what happened between an unnamed woman and players in London, Ontario, in 2018. Those finding will be reviewed by a panel of current and retired judges who will impose penalties that could include lifetime suspensions from the sport for players.
“These revelations demonstrate a deep, toxic culture that allows people to act with impunity,” Pascale St-Onge, the country’s sports minister, told a House of Commons committee during a hearing in which she questioned the fitness of the governing body’s current management. “We know we have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 National Junior Team, or to end the culture of toxic behavior within our game. Hockey Canada, the whole country is watching.”
Ms. St.-Onge added that she will not accept “just a P.R. exercise” from Hockey Canada and urged the organization to also review racism with in the sport, as well has how it handles on-ice violence and concussions. Several weeks ago she ordered an audit to determine if any government money was used for out of court settlements. The government provides about six percent of Hockey Canada’s revenue.
“We have heard Canadians loud and clear and are committed to making the changes necessary to allow us to be the organization Canadians expect,” the statement said.
“We know we have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 National Junior Team or to end the culture of toxic behavior within our game,” it added. “We know we need to do more to address the behaviors, on and off the ice, that conflict with what Canadians want hockey to be, and which undermine the many good things that the game brings to our country.”
The review by Mr. Cromwell and two lawyers will not focus on the behavior of players, coaches and staff whether on or off the ice. Instead it will look into issues like whether there is sufficient control over how money is dispensed from a “national equity fund” that had been use to settle lawsuits, and whether Hockey Canada’s volunteer board of directors adequately oversees operations.
The inquiry will also examine Hockey Canada’s bylaws and management structure and provide interim findings and recommendations by November.