Hockey Canada asked the federal government in 2019 if it could self-manage their safe-sport cases, despite facing a “substantial potential claim.”
In a three-page email to the Office of the Minister for Sport, Hockey Canada boasted that its secure sports management was “unmatched” but raised concerns about both any third-party investigative mechanisms and the new toll-free number to report abuse.
The email, signed by Glen McCurdie, then Hockey Canada’s vice president of insurance and risk management, also included details of Hockey Canada’s National Equity Fund, which will be used for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims, which the organization has had since ” Late 1990s”.
“It’s no secret that Hockey Canada was forced into action on sexual misconduct charges in the wake of the Graham James/Sheldon Kennedy revelations that rocked not just our sport but the nation as a whole in the late 1990s,” McCurdie wrote in the surviving report Email The Canadian Press.
“We are very proud of what we have achieved and continue to achieve. When we first faced this situation, we had to deal with financial problems related to unsubstantiated claims made by professional and other hockey players. We also had to look at setting up a program that our members can access in case they have similar concerns that are less public in nature.
“We have dealt with our ‘financial obligations’ by pre-addressing claims and reports of potential claims.”
The sport’s national body has come under intense scrutiny since news of an alleged sexual assault following a 2018 gala in London, Ontario involving eight unidentified players – including members of that year’s world junior team – and the subsequent tacit settlement in May took place.
Allegations of sexual assault by gangs involving the 2003 junior world team surfaced in July.
None of the allegations were proven in court.
Hockey Canada has had federal funding suspended to process the case and settle, while a number of companies have paused sponsorships.
Kirsty Duncan, Minister for Science and Sport from 2015 to 2019, said she did not receive the email from Hockey Canada addressed to Michael Paramathasan, a former senior policy adviser to the Minister for Sport, on October 29, 2019.
“It is clear from this letter that this is an organization that just doesn’t get it and doesn’t get it three decades after the horror of what Sheldon Kennedy witnessed, post Larry Nassar and US Gymnastics,” Duncan told The Canadian Press . “And I think what the letter shows is the real thinking, the thinking behind closed doors, and not with the eyes of the nation watching and judging.”
Duncan announced several Safe Sport initiatives in March 2019, including a national toll-free confidential hotline for victims and witnesses of abuse in sport. She also announced that national sport organizations (NSOs) have a safe sport policy and must make arrangements for access to an outside investigator.
McCurdie wrote that most Hockey Canada members would probably not know, “or the Canadian sports system at large, that we also purchased an insurance product to deal with sexual abuse/misconduct claims retrospectively.”
News of this “product” exploded in July when Hockey Canada officials told the House of Commons Heritage Committee that it was using the organization’s National Equity Fund, which relies on marginal hockey membership dues, by 7.6 million Paid out dollars in uninsured claims in nine settlements involving sex assault or abuse since 1989. That number did not include the alleged London incident.
McCurdie wrote that he could not “go into specifics” about the substantial potential claim, but said being able to access legal counsel, crisis communications, etc. has helped us in “immeasurable ways”.
“If we were hampered by a ‘sports process’ that would require us to go through a reporting and approval mechanism by an as yet unspecified third party organization, we firmly believe irreparable harm could be done to us,” he continued.
McCurdie found in the aforementioned potential lawsuit that the athlete(s) are the alleged perpetrator(s), not the victim.
“The concept of a third-party investigative firm would have hampered our ability to actually protect the athletes in this situation, there is no doubt about that,” he wrote, adding that Hockey Canada believes in customized solutions to specific problems and that a uniform should have procedures for each sport would have a detrimental effect on an NSO’s ability to deal with certain situations.
McCurdie’s arguments with the toll-free abuse pipeline pilot, he said, revolved largely around the sheer volume of complaints, many of which “are not necessarily valid… We have a lot of parents who use complaints of this nature as a basis for which teams/associations to switch.” .”
Neither Hockey Canada nor Paramathasan immediately responded to requests for comment.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Kennedy recently condemned Hockey Canada’s leadership, saying it had lost Canadians’ trust. Her comments came after the association’s board announced it was supporting President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Smith and his leadership team despite calls for a change in leadership of the organisation.
“Hockey Canada does not want to be burdened with any system or procedure that ties our hands and does not allow us to handle a situation as we see fit,” McCurdie wrote. “All we ask is that you keep that in mind as you continue to guide us in a collective safe sport strategy.”
Duncan said Hockey Canada’s values and priorities are wrong.
“The top priority of any sports organization is safe sport. This is an organization that has used self-interested arguments to defend itself against safe sport – that’s what this letter says. They didn’t want the rules because they didn’t want to be exposed,” she said.
“I would like to know if they are still proud of their success in this area.”
NDP MP Peter Julian, meanwhile, is urging the federal government to conduct a thorough audit of Hockey Canada’s 2016 finances.
The request, made in a letter to Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge on Sept. 6, relates to thousands of dollars in expenses attributed to the sport’s national governing body, including high-end dinners, luxurious hotel suites and championship rings for board members.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 13, 2022.