The high profile sexual assault case against five former members of Canada’s World Junior team has re-sparked scrutiny over toxic hockey culture, something Hockey Canada CEO Katherine Henderson says the organization is taking very seriously.
Henderson, who took over the role from Hugh Fraser last year, told Global National Friday that Hockey Canada is making big strides in thoroughly educating and training national team players in areas such as discrimination, harassment, abuse and consent.
“I do think we’ve done a very good job of making sure that people are quite aware of what those behaviours are. I think we can probably continue to look to improve upon that to make sure that actual behaviour changes (are) coming out of those programs,” she said.
“But it is certainly an intent, and it’s certainly a place that we are going to be investing in heavily over the next little while.”
Five members of the 2018 World Juniors hockey team are facing charges in an alleged sexual assault in 2018 involving a 20-year-old woman in London, Ont.
Carter Hart, Dillon Dube, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote were granted leaves from their respective NHL teams in January. A fifth member of the 2018 team, Alex Formenton, was also granted a leave from his professional team in Switzerland.
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Lawyers for all five players say that they deny the allegations.
The case has engulfed not just players on the team, but also the London Police, which closed and then reopened the investigation five years later. Hockey Canada privately settled with the claimant in 2022, which sparked the first bout of backlash against the organization and the initial handling of the allegations.
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Henderson notes that Hockey Canada doesn’t run hockey programs outside of the national team, so it doesn’t have much influence on hockey culture within individual regions.
“We’ve got to be really clear there. We do extensive work with our member organizations… who work with their members. Those would be your local hockey associations. And through them we have a great deal of alignment about what we define as good, healthy, proper behaviour,” Henderson said.
“We have written guidelines and we have written consequences… But we need to work within our hockey system… right down to the people that are delivering hockey to six year olds.”
Hockey Canada also drew the ire of Canadians in 2022 for its “National Equity Fund”, which was maintained by membership fees collected across the country to settle sexual assault claims.
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Henderson said Friday she believes the organization’s finance and audit committee “did a tremendous job at redefining policy around those funds.”
“We know exactly where the money’s coming from and where it’s going out. We have rules around those,” she said.
Canada’s Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough said earlier this month that the current sport system is not protecting children or holding sports leaders to account.
“Broad changes to the sports system and sports culture in Canada are needed to address this crisis,” Qualtrough said in a statement to Global News.
“We need to address the negative, inappropriate and dangerous behaviour that has been normalized in our dressing rooms, on our benches and in our stands.”
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The NHL has also come under criticism for what one advocate has called a “deafening” silence amid the accusations.
“The silence is deafening and it is concerning. I think it speaks to a wider problem generally that the NHL and just the sport system as a whole has with dealing with issues of abuse, of sexual violence, even of issues like racism, homophobia,” Amelia Cline of the safe sport advocacy group Gymnasts for Change Canada told Global News earlier this month.
Henderson says hockey in Canada has the ability to be a “profoundly good place for people to be.”
“There’s some wonderful hockey that’s being watched and we want to preserve that, but we know that we can do better,” she said. “I think hockey can be better.”
–with files from Global News’ David Baxter and Neetu Garcha
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