The Ending Violence Association of Canada is appalled at Hockey Canada’s poor handling of a sexual assault investigation and its multimillion dollar discretionary fund used to settle sexual assault claims.
A Globe and Mail investigation recently shed light on Hockey Canada’s multimillion dollar fund that is being used at their discretion to settle claims of sexual assault out of court and without relying on insurance investigations. This fund points to the deeply disturbing assumption by Hockey Canada that sexual violence is inevitable, and it also reveals their focus on risk management rather than prevention. Hockey Canada recently used this discretionary fund in a settlement involving a young woman who reported having been sexually assaulted by eight players of Canadian Hockey League, including members of the 2018 Canadian World Junior team. According to the Globe and Mail article, Hockey Canada asserts that their discretionary funds enabled them to act swiftly on behalf of the survivor. This may be the case when the alternative for the survivor is facing a grueling criminal trial where the defendants would likely hold much more power as young gold-medal winning national male athletes of Canada’s favourite sport. But the reality is that survivors of sexual violence have very limited options and the odds are stacked against them. In a context where the vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police (only 5% report), where there are low conviction rates, and where survivors feel re-victimized in their interactions with the criminal justice system, we know that the current system does not serve the needs of survivors. Systemic barriers and societal victim-blaming attitudes further dissuade them. We also know that one of the main reasons for those who do choose to report is the hope that speaking out will prevent their aggressor from harming others. Although a case settled swiftly may bring a certain sense of relief to a survivor, the harms caused by sexual assault cannot be undone through a financial payment or provide true accountability.
In this particular case, there was markedly no accountability on the part of the aggressors. Members of the 2018 national junior team were not compelled to participate in the investigation, nor were the aggressors identified, and so they faced no consequences for their actions. Hockey Canada appears to be operating with the mindset that as a powerful, male-dominated institution they can get away with gender-based violence. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in Canada, and so it is safe to assume that the one to two sexual assaults per year that come to the attention of Hockey Canada are only the tip of the iceberg and that numbers are in fact much, much higher.
It is disheartening that it took a public outcry and the withdrawal of a significant portion of their funding and sponsorships for Hockey Canada to take action. Their new commitments include suspending use of its discretionary fund to settle claims of alleged sexual assault; re-opening the investigation and compelling their players to take part; committing to provide training on sexual violence and consent and becoming signatories of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner and adhere to the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS).
While there is no doubt that training on gender-based violence and anti-oppression is needed, a “quick fix” approach must be resisted, and efforts must focus on addressing the much deeper systemic problem through a long-term commitment from Hockey Canada to dismantle a culture of violence and harmful norms that is in direct opposition to the values that sport is supposed to encourage. Beyond providing training, culture change requires a recognition of the systemic attitudes, practices, and structures that result in toxic cultures such as misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other forms of oppression that create an environment conducive to gender-based violence. Culture change involves a long-term commitment to naming and undoing these root causes of violence. Furthermore, culture change must explore the use of violence within the game, which cannot be separated from violence outside of the game. There is much to unpack when it comes to what young hockey players (and fans) are learning in terms of gender norms, masculinity, and aggression. Hypermasculine norms and attitudes that support and justify the use of aggression towards others, as well as a lack of sanctions for perpetrators are leading risk factors for sexual violence.
While Hockey Canada identified some important steps in their open letter to Canadians, an apology is only as good as the resources and efforts they are willing to invest into creating meaningful culture change through a long-term, well-resourced process in dialogue with community advocates and survivors. Re-establishing funding and sponsorship cannot be the motivation for Hockey Canada to change.
We have expressed our concerns and highlighted some possible next steps in our recent letter sent to the Minister of Sport that can be accessed here.