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Canada’s top women hockey players say there’s much to do to clean up toxic behaviour

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Players on Canada's senior women's hockey teams are demanding a "thorough and transparent investigation" into recent allegations of sexual assault involving Hockey Canada teams, and say the organization has a lot to do to address "toxic behaviour" in the sport.

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Players on Canada’s senior women’s hockey teams are demanding a “thorough and transparent investigation” into recent allegations of sexual assault involving Hockey Canada teams, and say the organization has a lot to do to address “toxic behaviour” in the sport.

The players from Canada’s most recent Olympic and world championship teams posted an open letter to Hockey Canada’s executives and board of governors Monday on the eve of a second round of parliamentary hearings into the organization’s handling of sexual assault complaints.

“We join all Canadians in demanding a thorough and transparent investigation of the incidents in question, as well as the structure, governance and environment that exists within (Hockey Canada),” the letter read.

Hockey Canada logo is seen at an event in Toronto on Wednesday Nov. 1, 2017. TSN has extended its media rights agreement with Hockey Canada through the 2033-34 season.The sports network announced Tuesday that the agreement fives TSN and French-language broadcaster RDS exclusive rights to Hockey Canada events, including the world junior championship. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

“Once the whole truth is out, Hockey Canada and its elected board must ensure that all steps are taken and appropriate measures are put in place to ensure that this kind of behaviour is never again accepted, and never repeated.”

The letter was published after Hockey Canada released on Monday a plan to combat the “toxic” culture in its sport.

The plan includes the implementation by the end of September of a centralized tracking and reporting system for abuse complaints. It said the results will be published annually to “hold Hockey Canada accountable.”

The organization will publish an annual social responsibility report, which will include information on complaints received at both the national team and subnational levels and a scorecard based on “key performance indicators.” Hockey Canada said it was in the process of identifying the measures to be included in the scorecard.

Hockey Canada did not say what data on the complaints will be made public in the report, but historical allegations of sexual assault will not be included.

Hockey Canada also says it will implement enhanced screening for high-performance players — “considering their behaviour and track record outside of their time with Hockey Canada and outside of the rink.” It will mandate that breaching the organization’s code of conduct or refusing to participate in an investigation could result in a lifetime ban.

The women, in their letter, said they were “encouraged” by the action plan, but added it was only “a step toward addressing toxic behaviours.”

“There is much more work and action needed to fully address the underlying issues in order to ensure a new Hockey Canada emerges from this crisis.”

The measures outlined Monday are in addition to those announced by Hockey Canada in a July 14 open letter, which came amid intense criticism for the organization’s handling of a sexual assault allegation involving eight players, and settlement of an ensuing lawsuit, following a 2018 gala in London, Ont. A second sexual assault allegation involving the Canadian team participating at the 2003 junior championship in Halifax surfaced on Friday.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

An independent review of Hockey Canada’s governance and a commitment to become a full signatory to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, a new government agency with the power to independently investigate abuse complaints and levy sanctions, were announced in the open letter.

Hockey Canada also said previously it would create an independent mechanism to handle complaints at the regional, provincial and local levels, which are not covered by the OSIC.

The House of Commons standing committee on Canadian heritage will hear testimony Tuesday and Wednesday. Hockey Canada had its federal funding frozen and multiple corporate partners pause sponsorships after former chief executive Tom Renney and current president and CEO Scott Smith testified about their handling of the 2018 allegation in a parliamentary hearing on June 20.

Smith and Renney testified the 19 players present at the London event were “strongly encouraged” to speak with third-party investigators, but not mandated to do so.

Smith took over from Renney as Hockey Canada CEO on July 1.

Smith and Renney have been subpoenaed to testify Wednesday, along with the heads of the Canadian Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League, as well as Glen McCurdie, Hockey Canada’s former vice-president of insurance and risk management.

The Canadian Press reported on July 18 that Hockey Canada maintains a fund that draws on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims. The detail was included in a July 2021 affidavit sworn by McCurdie as part of a lawsuit launched by an injured player in Ontario.

Hockey Canada has since said the fund will no longer be used to settle sexual assault claims.

The action plan released Monday also includes mandatory chaperones for underage athletes at Hockey Canada events to enforce curfews and ensure no alcohol is consumed. Hockey Canada also said it will no longer host “open bar” events.

The action plan says a review of all existing training programs performed by a third-party organization is underway.

Hockey Canada said an independent board will be appointed by Sept. 15 to ensure its plan is implemented.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2022.

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