Hockey Canada ‘culture of silence’ on sex assault claims is ‘disturbing’: minister

The “culture of silence” appears to be deeply rooted in Hockey Canada when it comes to the organization’s handling of sexual assault claims against players, says Canada’s sports minister.

Pascale St-Onge scrummed with ahead of a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

She spoke following testimony by Hockey Canada’s top leaders to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, where the officials came under repeated fire for what MPs said was a lack of accountability for members of the 2018 national juniors team alleged to have sexually assaulted a woman that year .

“I think that all sports organizations should make sure that their members are accountable for their actions and for those types of claims, so of course, I would expect players to cooperate when there are investigations such as this,” St-Onge said.

“I find it extremely disturbing and it shows that the culture of silence is well instilled in this sport, and there needs to be more action from Hockey Canada, for sure, in those regards.”

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Click to play video: 'Sports minister says Hockey Canada must do more after alleged sex assaults'

Sports minister says Hockey Canada must do more after alleged sex assaults

Sports minister says Hockey Canada must do more after alleged sex assaults

St-On been asked what she made of testimony by outgoing CEO Tom Renney and president and COO Scott Smith, who will soon replace Renney as CEO, that players were “encouraged” but not required to participate in an external investigation into the claims.

She was also asked about comments by Smith that the organization has received one or two allegations of sexual assault each year over the past five or six years.

The executives were called to testify after TSN Hockey Canada had reported a lawsuit with a woman who accused eight Canadian Hockey League players, including members of the 2018 national junior team that won world junior gold that year, of sexual assault following a Hockey Canada Foundation gala in London, Ont., in June 2018.

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According to the statement of claim, the woman claimed she was repeatedly assaulted while intoxicated in a hotel room.

She filed a $3.55-million lawsuit against Hockey Canada, the CHL and the unnamed players.

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Hockey Canada says players were not required to cooperate in 2018 sex assault probe

The lawsuit was settled, but no details of the settlement have been released.

The claims against the players have not been tested in court.

St-Onge testedified on Monday that Renney had told her shortly ahead of the TSN report that there was a non-disclosure agreement in place.

Three Conservative critics issued a joint statement on the matter on Tuesday in which they said while Canadians “glorify” hockey players, “we can never do that at the expense of our children, our sons and daughters and put in jeopardy our loved ones.”

“Potential perpetrators of sexual assault are living out perhaps their wildest dreams of pursuing a career in professional hockey. They could one day become, coaches and mentors holding positions of power,” the statement said, before adding the federal government hasn’t done enough to act.

“The Government must be held accountable. Hockey Canada’s officials must be held accountable. Canadians deserve answers. Victims deserve reassurance and protection. Nothing less is acceptable.”

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With files from Global’s Sean Boynton.

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