Hockey Canada leaders questioned on handling of 2018 sexual assault claim

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Hockey Canada executives should have forced members of the country's gold medal-winning junior team to speak with third-party investigators about an alleged sexual assault that occurred four years ago, a member of Parliament told the executives at a hearing on Monday.

A woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the 2018 world junior team at a gala event in June of that year. Her lawsuit was settled last month.

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney and president Scott Smith were called to testify about their handling of the allegation before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa.

Smith, who's set to take over for Renney as CEO on July 1, told the committee that junior team players were "strongly encouraged" to speak with third-party investigators hired by Hockey Canada. But the interviews were not mandated.

"Mr. Smith, if you want real accountability from Hockey Canada, you should have demanded all players participate in the interviews [with the outside law firm]," Conservative MP Kevin Waugh said. "You own that. ... That is unacceptable."

Smith, who is also the national sport body's chief operating officer, responded by saying that Hockey Canada "borrows" players from other leagues for international competitions.

"We've made some changes to our code of conduct," he said. "We're having discussions right now as to whether or not we can strengthen the ability to compel players that we borrow to participate in investigations regarding what happens under our care."

Bloc Quebecois MP Sebastien Lemire suggested in French that Hockey Canada play without its logo for a year "so that people will think about this issue ... culture in Hockey Canada and the responsibility that you have. I believe that [Hockey Canada is] John Doe No. 9 in this case."

Renney said Hockey Canada first learned of the alleged incident the following morning -- June 19, 2018 -- when a relative of the woman contacted its human resources department, and that police in London, Ontario, were informed that evening.

Smith said even though it took four years for the story to come out, and only after TSN was first to report the details last month, there wasn't a cover-up.

"The police were notified, we engaged a third-party investigator, we notified Sport Canada and we offered support to the young woman," he said. "That's not an indication of sweeping something under the rug."

Details of the settlement with the woman have not been released, but Smith said the players alleged to be involved did not contribute financially and no government money was used.

None of the allegations against the players have been proven in court.

Smith said London police informed Hockey Canada their criminal investigation was closed as of February 2019. Hockey Canada, meanwhile, kept its own investigation open through September 2020.

"A lot of people are taking the allegations in the statement of claim as fact," Smith said. "The challenge that we had is through extensive efforts over a 26-month period, we were not able to confirm what happened that evening."

The NHL is conducting its own investigation because a number of players from that world junior team are now in the league, while Canada's sports minister ordered a forensic audit of Hockey Canada.

"No one has been held accountable," Conservative MP John Nater said of the alleged assault. "No one lost the privilege of wearing the maple leaf on their jersey. ... I've heard zero tolerance mentioned today. I wish that was true.

"But if there's truly a zero-tolerance situation ... every single player who was in London that weekend should have been mandated to participate in that review or lose the opportunity and the privilege of being associated with Hockey Canada."