Canada hosts hockey world juniors in shadow of scandal
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) – The World Junior Hockey Championships will be played in Canada over the next two weeks, overshadowed by Hockey Canada’s handling of explosive sexual assault allegations.
The national ice hockey association has been mired in controversy for months after it was revealed in May it settled a legal dispute with a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by several members of the 2018 world junior team. In July, Halifax Regional Police began investigating allegations that members of the 2003 team had sexually assaulted a woman and filmed the attack during that tournament.
No charges were brought. Within the past week, police in London, Ontario said they have reason to believe a woman was sexually assaulted by five players from the 2018 Canada team.
Hockey Canada executives also announced in July that they have paid out $8.9 million in sex abuse settlements since 1989, not including the 2018 deal. The organization elected a new board on Dec. 17 and is still seeking for a new chief executive officer. The previous board resigned and President and CEO Scott Smith was ousted as a result of the controversy.
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Kyle Wagner, of Halifax, said the scandals sparked discussions in the dressing room of his eight-year-old son’s team ahead of this year’s World Junior Tournament, co-hosted by Halifax and Moncton, New Brunswick. The event starts on Monday.
“An eight-year-old is smart because my son knows there’s controversy in hockey this year, and while he doesn’t know many details, he knows some things were wrong and terrible,” Wagner said.
The revelation that Hockey Canada maintains a fund that draws from small hockey membership dues to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sex abuse claims, fueled an uproar earlier this year. Sponsors withdrew, the national sports minister withdrew federal funding from Hockey Canada, and chairmen of the governing body were severely questioned by Parliament.
Hockey Canada’s new CEO, retired judge Hugh L. Fraser felt it was his duty to step up and help heal the sport with eight newly appointed directors.
“Very discouraging, very discouraging,” Fraser said of his reaction to Hockey Canada’s disastrous 2022 in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “I had the same question everyone was asking, ‘How did this happen?'”
The public and political reaction was quick.
“It’s difficult for anyone in Canada to trust anyone at Hockey Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on July 19. He also said there must be “real reckoning” with the organization.
Now it’s up to Fraser, who has nearly three decades of Ontario court experience in Ottawa, and the board to select a new CEO and chart the future of Hockey Canada during a special one-year tenure.
“When I look at some of the things that have happened – the allegations of abuse and even racism, misogyny – you really feel that if you have the opportunity to get involved, to do something, you really should do it , to change something,” he told CP.
Fraser, whose son Mark played seven seasons in the NHL and is now the culture and inclusion manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, experienced some painful moments as a black man with black kids in minor hockey. He wants to leave the game a better place.
“You hear things,” Fraser said. “There were a few times when other players would come over and say, ‘Someone called your son the N-word.’ We occasionally had some fans who really misbehaved and created a very awkward atmosphere. As much as we’ve seen the positives – lots and lots of positive things – as a person of color you haven’t seen many people in your sport who look like you.
“There have been some tough times.”
But why would Fraser, who represented Canada in athletics at the 1976 Olympics, want to add this daunting task to a plate in the twilight of a career that still encompasses diverse roles, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport?
“Not quite to the point where I’m ready to sit back and take it easy,” he said. “A huge challenge, but at the same time a huge opportunity.
For now, fans will be looking to focus on Canada’s bid for a second consecutive World Junior Championship and a third in the last four years.
The New Brunswick government has included a good conduct clause in its funding agreement with Hockey Canada for the tournament. The contract stipulates that Hockey Canada representatives “must be of good character and not engage in unethical behavior” during the event.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Hockey Canada’s leadership change has “paved the way for the Mayor of Moncton and I to focus on hockey and the benefits that flow to our two cities.”
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