Ice hockey culture suffers from a “systemic problem” of sexual violence, the minister says

WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says there is a “systemic problem” of sexual violence and toxic masculinity in Canada’s hockey culture that Hockey Canada cannot change.

Your comment was in response to a Fifth Estate Inquiry which has identified at least 15 cases of sexual assault in groups of younger hockey players since 1989, half of which have surfaced in the past decade.

At least 50 players have been charged with the alleged crimes. Half were charged and only one was convicted after pleading a lesser offense that Fifth Stand found.

“We’re talking about a systemic problem,” St.-Onge told CBC News on Thursday. “The stories we read about are honestly deeply disturbing and disgusting.”

“We’ve heard these stories before. It’s not the first time we’ve talked about the toxic culture in hockey. But in the last ten years nothing or not enough has been done. It’s a terrible legacy.”

St-Onge on Thursday sharpened her condemnation of Hockey Canada, arguing the organization doesn’t have the luxury of years to change its culture. She said this toxic culture in sport has “been normalized for too long”.

“A lot of players have become men who never took responsibility for their actions and what happened,” she said. “But it’s also about the people in management and leadership roles who have also failed over the years.

“So far I don’t think what has been done is certainly enough.”

Hockey Canada continues to face calls for leadership changes; One of these calls came from St-Onge. The hockey organization has come under intense public scrutiny since May after a woman filed a $3.5 million lawsuit alleging eight hockey players — some of them members of the 2018 World Junior Hockey Team — sexually assaulted her attacked.

Hockey parents were outraged to learn that Hockey Canada used a portion of their registration fees to fund a settlement in this and other cases.

St-Onge suspended Hockey Canada funding in June — the strongest sanction available to her, she said. A number of key sponsors followed suit and withdrew their financial support for the ice hockey organization.

There are a number of conditions that Hockey Canada must meet before federal funding can resume. But St-Onge didn’t close the door on further conditions after completing a financial audit and a series of ongoing investigations.

“I’m giving myself all the flexibility to decide when federal funding will be reinstated,” she said.

Hockey Canada faces a “real sustainability problem,” St-Onge said, as parents question whether to register their children for hockey and provincial governing bodies threaten to withhold their dues.

“It can’t take two, three, four, five years to change the culture,” she said. “There needs to be a 180 degree shift in hockey culture, and it needs to happen now.”

Hockey Canada says it’s taking action

In a statement, Hockey Canada said that while “culture change cannot happen overnight,” it is “taking immediate action to eliminate inappropriate actions in and around our game.”

The hockey organization said it has made progress on its plan to address the “toxic” culture by introducing a third-party grievance mechanism, introducing mandatory training for national teams and working on updating its policies.

“We are committed to making the necessary changes to improve the culture of the Canadian game, including taking a leadership role in prioritizing safe sports in Canada,” Hockey Canada said in a statement to CBC News on Thursday.

The hockey organization encourages anyone who feels they have been a victim of abuse, sexual violence or any other type of abuse to come forward and report it.

Hockey Canada said it was also “important to note” that it hired a former Supreme Court Justice to conduct a third-party governance review.

Hockey Canada President and Chief Operating Officer Scott Smith told a Commons committee on July 27 that his organization’s goal is to “eliminate individuals who become victims of hockey and all inappropriate activity in the game.” (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The House of Commons committee will resume next month

The only member of Hockey Canada’s leadership to publicly resign amid the controversy, Michael Brind’Armour, is scheduled to testify before a House of Commons committee on Oct. 4.

Brind’Amour is the former CEO of Hockey Canada. He resigned in early August, saying “There is no need to wait for a new era.”

The Commons Committee has extended its review of how Hockey Canada handles cases of allegations of sexual assault to other sports.

Andrea Skinner, the new interim chairman of Hockey Canada’s board of directors, is also being asked to testify next month. She was first elected to the Board in November 2020, was formerly a member of the Risk Management Committee and Chair of the Personnel Committee.

The committee has asked the Board of Directors of Hockey Canada to provide any notes it took on camera during sessions as it discussed the group’s 2018 sexual assault case and settlement.

You can watch the Fifth Estate documentary Anatomy of a Scandal Thursday at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland) on CBC-TV or stream it on CBC Gem.

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