Breaking the ice: Hockey Canada incident turns a spotlight on toxic hockey culture

Unmasking the systemic issue of sexual assault in hockey culture

Image by: Herbert Wang
Hockey Canada has settled 21 cases of sexual assault in the last 24 years.

This article discusses sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424.

Whatever happened in that London hotel room in 2018 wasn’t an isolated event.

In the world of professional sports, ice hockey has always been viewed as a bastion of strength, teamwork, and most notably, national pride. However, beneath the glimmering surface of victories and accolades, a darker truth has been silently festering—the systemic problem of sexual assault that continues to go unaddressed.

The shocking events that transpired in a London hotel room in 2018 involving members of Canada’s 2018 World Junior Hockey team merely scratched the surface of a pervasive issue that’s gripped Hockey Canada and the NHL alike.

On Jan. 24, The Globe and Mail reported a revelation that sent shockwaves through the hockey community: five members from Canada’s 2018 World Junior hockey team were instructed to turn themselves in to London police to face charges of sexual assault. The alleged incident occurred after a Hockey Canada Foundation Gala and Golf event, tarnishing the reputation of a championship team who once brought pride to the nation.

Six years later, the wheels of justice seemed stuck in a perpetual freeze, as these players—some of whom are now in the NHL—continued their careers seemingly untouched by the allegations.

The London hotel room assault wasn’t an isolated event, rather a symptom of a broader malaise deeply rooted in hockey culture. Since 1989, Hockey Canada has settled over 21 cases of sexual abuse and assault, a staggering number that points to a systemic issue transcending this individual incident.

In 2022, news broke that Hockey Canada used $7.6 million from a reserve fund of player registration fees to cover nine sexual assault or abuse claims. Another $1.4 million was paid through Hockey Canada’s insurance to settle an additional 12 sexual misconduct claims during the same time.

Though these are the only reported cases, according to an investigation by The Globe and Mail, the aforementioned reserve fund—earmarked “for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse”—has exceeded $15 million in recent years.

These staggering figures and distressing revelations cast a spotlight on the pervasive hush culture that has allowed sexual assault to thrive in the world of hockey. The values traditionally upheld by the sport—toughness, resilience, and team loyalty—have inadvertently fostered an environment where the voices of survivors are drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

Hockey Canada executives made the inexplicable decision in 2022 to settle a $3.55 million lawsuit filed by the alleged survivor of the 2018 incident. The funds granted to the survivor were drawn from an undisclosed slush fund set up by Hockey Canada for such purposes, raising questions about the organization’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

The fact Hockey Canada has a dedicated reserve for incidents like this speaks volumes. They’re teaching players their actions are okay, so long as they keep playing well.

The systemic issue of sexual assault in hockey demands immediate and comprehensive action. It requires more than just addressing individual cases; it necessitates a cultural overhaul within the sport.

No more of the “boys will be boys” attitude—it’s time to start holding them accountable for their actions.

The time has come for Hockey Canada and the NHL to confront the issue head-on, acknowledging the toxic elements within their culture and implementing meaningful changes to protect individuals. The survivors—courageous individuals who have broken their silence—deserve justice.

The power of change lies in the hands of organizations, coaches, players, and fans who love the sport. Now more than ever, it’s time to address this pervasive issue, allowing hockey to thaw from its frozen silence and embrace a future where respect, dignity, and accountability take centre ice.

Tags

Hockey, hockey Canada, NHL, scandal

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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