PHOTO: Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge spoke with reporters about the decision on Wednesday to freeze federal funds to Hockey Canada, which is embroiled in a firestorm of criticism over its handling of sexual assault allegations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday called the organization’s handling of the allegations “unacceptable,” while Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said Hockey Canada will be “held accountable.”
TSN first reported news of the funding freeze on Wednesday morning.
Global News confirmed the decision with the office of St-Onge shortly after.
St-Onge scrummed with reporters before question period on Wednesday and confirmed the details in the TSN report, which are that the money is being suspended until the organization signs up with newly created Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner — which was created to ensure independent investigation of abuse allegations.
Sports minister says Hockey Canada must do more after alleged sex assaults.
She said Hockey Canada will also have to make public the report and recommendations it received from Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP, which did the initial external probe of the allegations, along with its plan to change the “culture of silence” in the organization.
During question period on Tuesday, St-Onge had said she was “not satisfied” with the testimony from Hockey Canada top leaders the previous day at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
Scott Smith, president of the organization, had been asked by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather how many other allegations of sexual assault Hockey Canada has received over the past decade.
In response, Smith said they have received one to two allegations of sexual assault per year for the past five or six years, which would cover the period extending back to 2016 or 2017.
Smith and Tom Renney, outgoing CEO of the organization, also said that players had not been required to participate in the Henein Hutchison probe into the allegation.
Neither could give a definitive answer as to how many members participated.
The executives were called to testify after TSN reported Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit with a woman who accused eight Canadian Hockey League players, including members of the 2018 national junior team that won world junior gold that year, of sexual assault following a Hockey Canada Foundation gala in London, Ont., in June of 2018.
According to the statement of claim, the woman claimed she was repeatedly assaulted while intoxicated in a hotel room.
She filed a $3.55-million lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the CHL and the unnamed players.
The lawsuit was settled, but no details of the settlement have been released.
The allegations have not been tested in court.
St-Onge told the committee on Monday she had been informed by Hockey Canada that the settlement details were covered by a non-disclosure agreement.
Following the report of the lawsuit settlement, the government launched a financial audit of Hockey Canada to probe whether any federal funds were used in the settlement.
It is due to be submitted to Sport Canada on July 22.
The audit will also look at “what’s happening at Hockey Canada,” said Ariane Joazard-Bélizaire, press secretary for St-Onge, but she did not say whether the minister is committed to making that public.
The audit is not going to look at the handling of allegations prior to 2018.
“The audit will cover the year of 2018 to 2023 to ensure compliance with the terms and obligations of the Agreement,” said Joazard-Bélizaire.
When asked why the audit was not being extended to cover the full time period during which Hockey Canada says they have received additional allegations, she said: “The audit was requested by the minister on June 2nd a few after the allegations were made public (May 26th) by Rick Westhead on TSN.”
Joazard-Bélizaire added there could be additional reviews if the audit identifies problems in any use of federal funds by Hockey Canada, saying: “Then obviously further action can be done.”
Conservative MP John Nater is one of the vice-chairs of the Canadian Heritage committee. He told Global News on Wednesday the financial audit must be made public.
When asked what he made of the testimony offered by Renney and Smith, Nater said he was left “incredibly disappointed” by the information they provided to the committee.
The Canadian Heritage committee is due to meet again behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon, and Nater said he expects there will be discussion about whether the committee will use its powers to compel Hockey Canada to release key documents.
In particular, he said committee members are in broad agreement that they want to see the partial report done by Henein Hutchison for Hockey Canada, as well as certain other documents showing how the organization handled the allegation.
“I think there is a general consensus around the table that we need to get to the bottom of this,” he said, describing what he called a “general willingness to have these documents compelled.”
“I think there is information that we need to have before the committee.”
With a file from Global’s Sean Boynton.