London celebrations

Sport Canada was aware of Team Canada sexual assault allegations in 2018

OTTAWA – Michel Ruest, senior director of Sport Canada, says the federal organization became aware of an alleged sexual assault involving members of Team Canada’s world junior hockey team in late June 2018, but did not follow up with Hockey Canada for the next four years. years.

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OTTAWA – Michel Ruest, senior director of Sport Canada, says the federal organization became aware of an alleged sexual assault involving members of Team Canada’s world junior hockey team in late June 2018, but did not follow up with Hockey Canada for the next four years. years.

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During questioning before a House of Commons committee on Tuesday, Ruest also told MPs that Sport Canada, an arm of Canadian Heritage, had not informed the office of then-sports minister Kirsty Duncan. , allegations.

Current sports minister Pascale St-Onge said she only learned of the allegations this year.

She and Sport Canada officials have been called to give evidence as the Commons heritage committee investigates what happened between June 2018, when Hockey Canada learned of the allegations, and May this year, when the new announced that it had settled a lawsuit with the plaintiff.

MPs questioned Ruest and Deputy Heritage Minister Isabelle Mondou on why funding for Hockey Canada was not cut until June of this year and why there was no follow-up on the ‘affair.

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Mondou said Sport Canada, which has funding agreements with national sports organizations, has no mandate to investigate and is not a regulator.

That wasn’t enough for Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who told St-Onge he blamed the federal agency in part. “Canadians look to Sport Canada for leadership.

St-Onge said serious allegations will now be reported to his office.

“But Sport Canada’s responsibility is to ensure that the sports organization takes the appropriate steps to deal with these situations,” she told reporters.

“In the case of Hockey Canada in 2018, Hockey Canada told Sport Canada that they reported the event to local police and it was the right thing to do.”

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Witnesses Michel Ruest (from left to right), Senior Director, Programs, Sport Canada Branch of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Sports, and Isabelle Mondou, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, appear before the Standing Committee on Heritage Canadian in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, examining Hockey Canada's involvement in sexual assault allegations in 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Witnesses Michel Ruest (from left to right), Senior Director, Programs, Sport Canada Branch of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Sports, and Isabelle Mondou, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, appear before the Standing Committee on Heritage Canadian in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, examining Hockey Canada’s involvement in sexual assault allegations in 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Police have not brought charges and an independent investigation into the case has been closed without conclusion.

The woman at the center of the complaint alleges she was sexually assaulted in an incident involving eight hockey players, including some members of the 2018 World Junior Team, after a Hockey Canada gala in London.

Hockey Canada contacted a law firm when it learned of the incident.

Danielle Robitaille, a partner at the firm, appeared before the Commons committee on Tuesday. She said she was contacted by Glen McCurdie, Hockey Canada’s former vice-president of insurance and risk management, and advised him to inform London police.

She was asked to conduct an independent investigation and interviewed 10 of the 19 players present at the event.

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Robitaille said the remaining nine players declined to be interviewed due to the ongoing police investigation and decided not to interview them until she had the complainant’s version of events.

Robitaille said the original investigation was closed because the complainant failed to provide a statement. The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit this spring.

Robitaille said the woman had now given him a “detailed version of events”, allowing investigators to interview the other players.

“I am in contact with the players’ lawyer and plan to schedule interviews imminently,” she told the Commons committee.

“I am well equipped to pursue this investigation.”

Hockey Canada said player participation is mandatory.

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“I hope I will receive voluntary compliance with my investigation,” Robitaille said, but added that Hockey Canada has given him an additional tool because anyone who does not participate will be banned from their activities and programs, and these bans will be made public.

London police have reopened their investigation, and the NHL and the NHL Players Association are also investigating.

The plaintiff’s suit sought just over $3.5 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight unnamed players. Hockey Canada settled the case quickly for an undisclosed amount.

Details of the settlement, including the identity of the plaintiff and the men involved, have not been made public.

Robitaille wouldn’t say if the eight players who were allegedly involved in the sexual assault were among those yet to be interviewed.

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She said she chose not to interview them before speaking with the complainant because “for procedural reasons I could not interview the players without giving them reasonable notice of what they were charged with.”

A number of men who were part of this team have publicly stated that they were not involved in the alleged attack and that they had participated in the investigations.

Robitaille said seven Team Canada coaches and staff were also interviewed.

Hockey Canada released a plan on Monday to rid the sport of ‘toxic culture’, including mandatory chaperones for underage athletes at its events to enforce curfews and ensure no alcohol is allowed. is consumed. Hockey Canada also said it would no longer hold “open bar” events.

St-Onge told the committee that Hockey Canada leaders “need to ask themselves if they are the right people to influence culture change” and that his department will use Sport Canada funding agreements to ensure that national sport organizations prioritize the health and safety of athletes.

Hockey Canada president and COO Scott Smith and recently retired CEO Tom Renney will appear before the committee on Wednesday, along with McCurdie and the CHL president.

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