Hockey Canada deserves scrutiny for its actions
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Hockey Canada deserves scrutiny for its actions

Summertime is typically no deterrent to the national obsession with hockey. From the Stanley Cup finals through the draft and free agency, NHL news flows well into the hot-weather season, and fans are already counting the days until training camps open.

This summer, however, much of the attention on the sport revolves around something much more unsavoury: Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual-assault allegations in the sport. Investigations increasingly expose a culture of toxic masculinity that’s learned nothing from #MeToo movement, nor shown much in the way of enlightenment.

The organization came into the spotlight with revelations of a lawsuit filed in April by a woman who alleges an assault by eight Canadian Hockey League players after a 2018 gala in London, Ontario. Hockey Canada settled the claim out of court the following month. When news broke, the organization immediately circled the wagons.

Sweeping the issue under the rug appeared to be goal. The tactic didn’t work, sparking more investigative journalism that determined Hockey Canada had a special fund, drawn from registration fees over the years, to pay out such legal settlements. The news prompted the launch of  a federal government investigation, and saw sponsors back away from the organization.

In June, Ottawa froze Hockey Canada’s federal funding.

At the time of the incident, police in London looked into the matter, but decided not to move forward. They’ve now reopened the investigation, looking into claims by the woman known in court documents only as E.M. that she was the victim of a group sexual assault by members of Canada’s world junior hockey team.

In her legal statement of claim, the woman says she felt pressured after the incident not to go to the police or cooperate with any investigation. The statement accuses Hockey Canada of failing to act and for condoning a “culture and environment that glorified the degradation and sexual exploitation of young women.”

The spotlight on that case soon expanded into allegations of other sexual-assault instances – and settlements using Hockey Canada funds – dating back decades. (Police in Halifax have opened an investigation into an allegation of a separate group sexual assault involving hockey players in 2003, for instance.) It’s not a pretty picture.

Under scrutiny is the so-called hockey culture. Anything even hinting at a cover-up only makes matters worse.

Hockey Canada has rolled out an action plan it says will “shatter the code of silence and eliminate toxic behaviour in and around Canada’s game.”

Even if the effort is more than an after-the-fact attempt to salvage its reputation, Hockey Canada has a long way to go to change established ways of thinking.

That much was acknowledged last week by some of the country’s best female hockey players. In an open letter calling for an investigation into recent allegations, players from Canada’s Olympic and world championship teams called on Hockey Canada to address the “toxic behaviour” in the sport.

“We join all Canadians in demanding a thorough and transparent investigation of the incidents in question, as well as the structure, governance and environment that exists within [Hockey Canada],” the letter read.

“Once the whole truth is out, Hockey Canada and its elected board must ensure that all steps are taken and appropriate measures are put in place to ensure that this kind of behaviour is never again accepted, and never repeated.”

There’s no doubt that hockey culture needs to change when it comes to fostering young men who are more respectful of women and society. What remains in doubt is whether the latest scandal will be enough to force Hockey Canada to change its ways on the road to not just setting a better example, but demanding more of those who play the sport. The change starts with the organization … or with a change of the executives running the place.

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