Hockey Canada faces backlash for poll into sexual assault allegations

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A recent poll distributed by Hockey Canada left some shaking their heads at what they see as disconnected questions about how the organization handles sexual assault allegations.

The poll, which CBC News saw, was distributed to parents, volunteers and coaches, seeking to gauge opinions on the national sports body.

It has been under intense scrutiny since the news broke this spring 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 subsequent settlement.

Allegations of another gang sexual assault involving the 2003 World Junior Team was born in July. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with several statements, including:

  • “The level of media criticism of Hockey Canada is overblown.”
  • “Incidents like this are unlikely to happen again.”
  • “The allegations relate to only a few hockey players and are not representative of hockey culture in this country.”

They were also asked to say how important it is for Hockey Canada, as it works “to address systemic issues in hockey”, to “stop using membership fees to cover claims of sexual misconduct not assured”.

Hockey Canada told a parliamentary committee that it got most of its settlement money from its National Equity Fund, which is funded in part by minor hockey league fees – a fact that aroused public outrage.

The organization said in July that it no longer use the fund to settle such claims.

Hockey Canada ‘underestimates’ sexual misconduct crisis in member survey, minister says

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has criticized Hockey Canada for its attempt at “public relations management” and says she is looking for more concrete action after several allegations of sexual misconduct by players.

“How can they be so ignorant? »

Lisa Wallace is a sportswriter from Ottawa – covering all levels of hockey, from minor hockey to the NHL – and has a 15-year-old son who plays AAA hockey.

“I was doing a survey [and] I was literally shaking my head and reading some of these questions, because I was like, ‘How can they be so ignorant?'” she said.

Whether it’s Hockey Canada or the market research company Forsta which organizes the poll, Wallace said he felt those answering the questions didn’t fully understand how people feel about the organization at this time.

The issue of media coverage also left a bad taste.

“I just thought, ‘Really? Is that what you’re worried about? Like people are, you know, worried about being treated unfairly?'”

Asked about the poll on Wednesday, Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge told reporters she wanted “profound and thorough” changes from Hockey Canada, not a public relations exercise.

St-Onge also said that the wording of the question regarding media coverage was incorrect.

“Asking whether it was the media that created this whole crisis as we talk about a possible rape, repeatedly, I think understates the depth of the problem, the urgency and the action that needs to be taken. “, she said.

A woman wearing a white blazer and a COVID-19 mask walks through glass doors.
St-Onge arrives to appear as a witness at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in July. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Participants were also asked for their views on whether the sports organization should implement enhanced character screening for all high-level players, a comprehensive system for tracking and reporting all player complaints abuse, and apologize.

They were also asked if the sports body should “have inclusive and diverse leadership”, “explain what happened” and “introduce new leadership”.

In July, Hockey Canada issued an apology and announced it would relaunch a dormant third-party investigation into the alleged sexual assault of 2018.

He also named lawyer Andrea Skinner as interim chairman of its board of directors amid mounting public pressure for a major leadership overhaul.

Range of questions asked

On social networks, screenshots of the survey questions are circulating. “The questions in this survey tell you exactly where their heads are at,” one tweet read. “So @HockeyCanada…..everything is hyped up by the media? Get on the mic and say that,” said another.

In a statement, the organization said it was not trying to downplay the challenges it faces or the “horrible allegations of sexual assault against former members of the national junior team”.

“Certain questions in the survey were designed to gauge the sentiment and awareness of members of the hockey community about the issues facing Hockey Canada,” the statement said.

“As to a few questions recently shared on social media, participants were given a series of statements to respond to indicating the extent to which they agreed or disagreed.”

Hockey Canada noted that those statements included “I am reconsidering my child’s participation in hockey as a result of the allegations” and “there is nothing Hockey Canada can do to regain my trust.”

Scott Phelan, president of the Ottawa Stittsville Minor Hockey Association, said he discussed and heard questions about hockey safety and finances, and he hopes the survey responses will be public.

“We appreciate being offered a survey…that we can engage with Hockey Canada to say, ‘Yeah, you know what, I’m a hockey parent, I contribute to the program, where does my money go? “”

Wallace isn’t sure why the sports organization needed an investigation in the first place. She said the money could have been invested in better programs, such as instilling the importance of consent.

“It made me wonder, like, is their leadership so uninvolved that they don’t understand the pulse of Canadian parents right now? [To the degree] that you feel the need, once again, to spend money… to carry out this survey? »

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