House of Commons lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously called for an independent inquiry into Hockey Canada’s handling of an alleged gang rape case, hours after Ottawa announced the organization’s funding freeze.
A motion presented by Bloc Québécois Sébastien Lemire was adopted by unanimous consent between the parties.
The text of the motion also states that the investigation should reveal “whether this was an isolated event or whether there are gaps in the way Hockey Canada handles complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other types of misconduct reported to him”.
“What Hockey Canada has done, trivializing what happened, is completely unacceptable. […] What we heard is that, in particular, it was voluntary on the part of the players to participate or not” in the investigation, declared Mr. Lemire after the question period.
Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said work is underway to determine “the right process to proceed and enforce the motion.”
According to recent revelations, Hockey Canada has reached an out-of-court settlement with the alleged victim of a sexual assault committed by eight Canadian Hockey League junior players.
In court documents, the young woman claims that the events occurred in a hotel room after a Hockey Canada gala in June 2018, in London, Ontario.
Earlier in the afternoon, during another press scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons, Minister St-Onge described the testimonies delivered Monday by leaders of the organization in parliamentary committee as “extremely disturbing and worrying”. She explained that Hockey Canada would only see its funding reinstated once it met two conditions.
The first is to provide Sport Canada with the report of the law firm hired to investigate the alleged incident and a plan that details how the recommendations will be implemented within the organization.
The second is to join the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner and work “closely to change the culture of silence and […] fight against sexual violence within the organization”.
Currently, the organization’s leadership is “deficient, inappropriate, from another era”, she summed up.
Monday evening, following the appearance of senior Hockey Canada officials, Mr.me St-Onge argued that “we are faced with an organization that perpetuates the culture of silence”.
At the time, she declined to say whether she intended to withhold public funds or whether heads would roll until she received the findings of the financial audit she commissioned.
Conservative sports critic Richard Martel said he too is “extremely concerned” about Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault complaints. “It was not at all convincing,” he said.
“I also wonder about the senior executives of Hockey Canada because it’s a really concerning situation, especially when you know that they select the best players for each team, very often the captains, who […] would be expected to have leadership, discipline and accountability,” he added.
Called to react, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, praised the work of Minister St-Onge.
“There are not many people who are awarded the merits, but I sincerely think, having seen several of the interventions of Mme St Onge, […] that it is oriented towards the right decisions,” he said.
Mr. Blanchet added that the public should know what happened and accused Hockey Canada officials of having given Monday “an embarrassing public relations show” which showed “a serious lack of respect for parliamentarians”.
NDP MP Peter Julian for his part felt that Hockey Canada had not put in place the necessary to hold an investigation that goes “to the bottom of things”.
During the appearance before the Standing Committee on Heritage, the organization’s chief executive, Tom Renney, assured that Hockey Canada had not attempted to “sweep under the rug” history through a cover-up.
Several MPs reacted strongly when they learned that it was however optional for the players of the 2018 national junior team who were allegedly involved in the gang rape case to participate in the investigation into the events.
Hockey Canada received $14 million from Ottawa in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in grants related to COVID-19, according to government documents obtained by CBC and TSN.