Justice delayed The six year road to prosecution in Hockey Canada

Justice delayed: The six-year road to prosecution in Hockey Canada sexual assault scandal – The Athletic

Shortly after the sun rose on a crisp June morning, Hockey Canada's elite – including members of this year's gold medal-winning World Junior Team – gathered at the London Hunt Club to play golf.

The players wore matching red polo shirts with black collars and bats bearing the Hockey Canada logo during the early morning round at the private country club in southwestern Ontario's largest city.

While they were playing, Hockey Canada officials were informed that a young woman had claimed she had been sexually assaulted by several members of the world junior team just hours earlier.

Later that day – long after the golf tournament had ended and the players had left town – around 6 p.m., Hockey Canada contacted London police.

That was six years ago.

Five members of Canada's 2018 World Junior Championship team were ordered to turn themselves in to police and face sexual assault charges this week, according to a report from The Globe and Mail. In the period between the alleged attack and the threatened charges, almost no one in positions of authority or knowledge did the right thing.

The hours it took Hockey Canada to speak to police that day in June 2018 were just the first delay in six years of cover-ups, backroom dealings and hurdles designed to prevent transparency and protect organizations and defendants from scrutiny to protect.

Instead of operating openly, Hockey Canada chose to hide under a cloak of secrecy.

In the tight-knit ice hockey fraternity, one can certainly ask oneself how much of an open secret the allegations against the World Juniors were. Which players knew? Which agents? Which team leaders?

What could have been revealed but wasn't revealed – and why?

London police quietly ended their investigation in February 2019 when the lead investigator deemed there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

This finding is consistent with the findings of a 2017 investigation by Globe and Mail journalist Robyn Doolittle, which found that one in five sexual assault claims in Canada were dismissed as unfounded. In London in particular, 30 percent of these claims were deemed “unfounded” by the city’s police force.

The allegations about what happened after the Hockey Canada Foundation gala in June 2018 remained hidden, buried amid a long history of allegations of sexual violence within the junior hockey community that had been ignored, dismissed or attacked for decades.

The incident would have remained another averted crisis for hockey's gatekeepers had the complainant not filed a follow-up lawsuit in April 2022 against Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight players.

Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit out of court on behalf of all parties and attempted to keep the allegations secret.

And that's how they would have remained – at least beyond the Brotherhood – if TSN reporter Rick Westhead hadn't learned of the lawsuit and settlement a month later. His story opened a series of investigations into what actually happened in London that night.

In the nearly two years since, a culture of silence and secrecy within Hockey Canada has been brought into the spotlight of public scrutiny.

The Globe and Mail's Grant Robertson revealed that the organization had a secret multi-million dollar fund to settle sexual assault cases and kept such cases secret. Part of that money was funded by registration fees paid by parents of children playing hockey across the country.

Amid public outrage, Hockey Canada executives were summoned before several parliamentary hearings in Ottawa and questioned by MPs about the organization's handling of the allegations, the settlement and its lack of transparency.

At those hearings, it was revealed that Sport Canada, which oversees all leading sports federations in Canada, was made aware of the sexual assault allegations in June 2018 but took no action.

No investigation, no verification, no questions.


Following the public hearings, the federal government froze Hockey Canada's funding and several high-profile sponsors ended their partnerships. Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith resigned after initially resisting MPs' calls for him to resign. The entire board of Hockey Canada also resigned.

As investigations mounted into how Hockey Canada handled the sexual assault allegations, London police reopened their investigation in July 2022.

Details of what happened that evening in London became public as media attention increased. It wasn't hard for reporters to find firsthand accounts of members of the world junior team plying young women with alcohol at a bar and trying to take him back to the Delta Armories Hotel. Photos and videos of the night were easy to find. Using these images, videos and sources interacting with the players that evening, it was possible to put together a timeline of who was where and when. Lawyers representing some of the players addressed the media with two videos taken from a room at the Delta Armories Hotel that purportedly show the alleged victim stating that he consented to the incident. Text messages were also revealed in which a player asked the woman if she had gone to the police.

The names of the members of this junior world team have occasionally trended on Twitter as public speculation ran rampant and our insatiable hunger for details went unfulfilled. The unnamed complainant, who had advocated for privacy, faced a similar public trial – as strangers questioned her motives and the veracity of her claims.

Months after the police investigation was back in the public spotlight, investigators believed they had grounds for charges in the initially dismissed case.

In December 2022, London police filed a court application demanding greater investigative powers, saying they had reasonable grounds to believe that five hockey players had committed sexual assault. The application contained details of that night in London, obtained through interviews with the complainant and the players who were in the hotel room at the time. The 94-page document, first obtained by The Globe and Mail, also revealed that a member of Hockey Canada informed a player that police had been contacted following the alleged incident. The player then searched for the woman on Instagram, asking her if she had called the police and urging her to withdraw the report.

Possible charges against members of Canada's 2018 World Junior Team, most of whom now play in the NHL, hovered for a year. Team members have been banned from representing Canada at international ice hockey events pending the results of an internal investigation by Hockey Canada. Since then, this story has disappeared from the headlines, reappearing every now and then in small updates with small developments.

The slow pace of the reopened case is understandable. This is an active criminal investigation with potentially serious consequences and justice at stake. Our desire for more information plays no role in the legal process.

But skepticism about what would be revealed and what would remain hidden is warranted. As does the question of who is protected.

Is justice the primary concern?

That's a legitimate question. From the beginning, terrible allegations were treated as a nuisance, brushed aside and then settled. Instead of searching for the truth about what happened, the impulse from the moment the allegations surfaced was to limit the damage to the hockey establishment.

When Hockey Canada first hired a law firm to investigate the allegations, players were not required to participate and several declined to be interviewed. The investigation was closed because the law firm could not determine the identity of the defendants.

When this investigation reopened in July 2022 amid public outcry, Hockey Canada required that all players participate or be barred from participating in future programs or international competitions for Canada.

Why wasn't this the original requirement?

The results of the law firm's investigation were presented to an external panel in November 2022. It took a full year for the panel to make recommendations on possible sanctions against players it believed had violated Hockey Canada's code of conduct.

These findings still remain hidden and rely on an opaque appeals process. When does Hockey Canada plan to release its results?

The NHL also launched its own investigation into what happened and whether any of its players would face disciplinary action, saying the results would be made public. This investigation is “closer to the end than the beginning,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in October 2022. Throughout the NHL's investigation, all players involved were able to collect their paychecks while continuing to play in the best league in the world.

The details of this investigation have not been disclosed. If the investigation uncovered wrongdoing, how long did the league retain that information before acting?

Now five players from that junior team will reportedly travel to London, where police have scheduled a press conference for February 5 to discuss the details of this high-profile case. Lengthy legal proceedings await.

Neither Hockey Canada, the NHL or the NHL Players' Association have commented on the news of pending charges.

So here we are, in what is really just the beginning – six years after a sunny June morning, waiting for answers to questions that far too many people had hoped would never get to this point.

(Photo by Andy Devlin/Getty Images)