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Companies pause Hockey Canada sponsorships in wake of sex assault allegations

·7 min read

TORONTO — Some major corporations are putting their Hockey Canada sponsorships on ice.

Scotiabank said Tuesday the pause will last until it's confident the right steps are taken to improve the culture within the sport.

Retail giant Canadian Tire and telecommunications company Telus followed suit later in the day, with both withdrawing support from the upcoming world junior hockey championship.

The developments come after the federal government froze public funding to the national federation last week in response to its handling of an alleged sexual assault and out-of-court settlement.

Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit last month after a woman claimed she was assaulted by members of the country's 2018 gold-medal winning world junior hockey team at a gala and golf function four years ago in London, Ont.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Hockey Canada executives were grilled by legislators on Parliament Hill last week during a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting looking into the matter.

"Like so many of you, I was appalled by the recent reports of alleged assault involving younger ambassadors of Canada's game," Scotiabank president and CEO Brian J. Porter wrote in an open letter. "We believe we have a responsibility as hockey lovers and sponsors to contribute to positive change in the sport.

"We are committed to ensuring that hockey is safe, inclusive and accessible."

Porter said planned Scotiabank marketing and events at the pandemic-delayed 2022 world juniors in August will be cancelled, with the investments redirected into other programs, including one that aims to help eliminate financial barriers for young people in the game, and the women's world championship.

Canadian Tire said in an emailed statement that the company is "deeply disappointed in Hockey Canada’s lack of transparency and accountability around the assault allegations."

In addition to withdrawing support from the world junior championship, Canadian Tire said it's "re-evaluating its relationship with Hockey Canada."

Canadian Tire is listed as an international marketing partner on Hockey Canada's website and sells a wide range of Team Canada-branded merchandise.

"We are calling on Hockey Canada to do better and live up to their commitment to change the systemic culture of silence in our nation’s sport, and push to make it more inclusive and safe for all," the retailer said.

Telus is redirecting money from its sponsorship of Hockey Canada and the world juniors to Canadian organizations that support women affected by sexual violence.

"We are appalled by the recent reports of assault involving members of the 2018 world junior championship team," the company said in a statement.

Telus said it would continue to support women's events and programs supporting youth in hockey.

"Our values and our commitment to creating globally recognized respectful and safe workplaces extends to all of our partners, and we are engaged with Hockey Canada to understand what specific changes are being made within their organization to drive positive cultural change and create a safe, inclusive hockey experience for all," Telus said.

Business development and partnerships have previously made up 43 per cent of Hockey Canada's coffers, according to the organization's numbers, ahead of funding agencies (14 per cent), insurance premiums (13 per cent), interest revenue (10 per cent) and the taxpayer funds (six per cent).

Scotiabank said it's making a donation to the Canadian Women's Foundation, which supports victims of gender-based violence. It also expects Hockey Canada to fully co-operate with the federal government's audit and ensure the company's funding was used as intended.

The Canadian Press reached out to some of Hockey Canada's other major corporate partners — including Esso, Nike and Tim Hortons — seeking comment on Scotiabank's decision to temporarily pull its funding plug.

Esso said in a statement it is "concerned by the recent allegations."

"We are paying close attention to this issue as it develops, and have communicated our expectations to Hockey Canada that concrete steps must be taken immediately to address safety issues and ensure swift culture change," spokeswoman Keri Scobie wrote in an email.

"At the same time, our organization remains committed to supporting Canada's hockey community and grassroots youth programs across the country."

Hockey Canada said in a statement Tuesday it "values" its relationship with Scotiabank, adding "we both respect and understand their decision."

"Hockey Canada is on a journey to change the culture of our sport and to make it safer and more inclusive, both at the rink and in our communities," the statement read. "We have been on this journey for some time, but we agree that more needs to be done, and more quickly."

Hockey Canada said last week it needs to "do more" to build a safer culture following a tumultuous week that included president Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney getting called to the floor by parliamentarians.

"We were all expecting answers to all the questions, the many questions, that we have regarding how they handled the whole situation when they testified," Pascale St-Onge, the federal government's minister of sport, told reporters in Ottawa last Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, we did not receive many answers."

St-Onge said at the time Hockey Canada would only have its public money restored once officials produced an incomplete report by a third-party law firm hired to investigate the 2018 incident allegedly involving eight players.

She added Hockey Canada must also become a signatory to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, a new government agency with the power to independently investigate abuse complaints and levy sanctions.

The woman who made the assault allegation, now 24 years old, was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and the unnamed players.

Details of the settlement have not been made public, but Smith testified Hockey Canada came up with the funds, adding no government money was used. St-Onge ordered the audit to make sure that's the case.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is set to meet July 26 and 27 to hear from more witnesses. It has also requested a redacted copy of the non-disclosure agreement related to the out-of-court settlement and a long list of Hockey Canada communications.

St-Onge has said she only learned of the situation on call with Renney days before TSN broke the story last month. Hockey Canada said it informed Sport Canada of the situation in June 2018.

The House of Commons unanimously approved a Bloc Quebecois motion to pursue an independent investigation that will look into how Hockey Canada dealt with the allegations.

The organization hired Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to conduct its investigation, but Smith and Renney told MPs that while players present at the London event were "strongly encouraged" to participate, it was not mandated.

Smith said 12 or 13 of the 19 players from the world junior team at the London event were interviewed by Hockey Canada's investigators.

"Their mechanism (to investigate) is not well-functioning," St-Onge said last week.

Hockey Canada has said repeatedly the woman declined to speak with police or its investigators.

Smith and Renney reiterated to the committee the woman also chose not to name the players. The executives added Hockey Canada still does not know the identities of the eight players in question.

Smith said London police informed Hockey Canada its criminal investigation was closed as of February 2019.

The independent investigation ended in September 2020, but Renney testified the report is incomplete and shouldn't be released despite the fact in contained recommendations.

Smith testified last week Hockey Canada has reported three sexual assault complaints in recent years, including the London incident, but declined to discuss the other two in front of the committee.

The NHL, which has said it also only recently learned of the allegations, is conducting an investigation because some of the players in question are now in the league.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

___

Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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