Canadian experts say sexual violence in hockey and other sports has existed for decades


Laurel Walzak says that while the recent news of sexual violence in Canadian hockey has been disturbing, she wasn’t surprised at all.

And, warns Walzak, this is just the beginning.

“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” Walzak told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. “I’m so grateful. But I’m also scared. It’s so widespread.”

Walzak was one of 28 Canadian experts from 21 universities who signed an open letter to Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge and Hedy Frye, Chair of the Heritage Committee, ahead of the start of a parliamentary hearing as part of the investigation into Hockey Canada’s handling of assault allegations.

The letter pointed out that Canada could become a world leader in developing solutions. But Walzak said that will require an overhaul of the governance of hockey and other sports, and that men must lead the charge.

“The organization, the management, the board, the governance have to be accountable for that,” said Walzak, a professor of sports media and sports business at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Global Experiential Sport Lab.

“And the men who run hockey have to lead the change, because it’s controlled and led by men who run. They’re the keepers, they’re the power, they’re the insiders. And it’s not just here in Canada , it goes everywhere, it goes to the IOC [International Olympic Committee]it goes to the International Ice Hockey Federation, it goes to the base of the local hockey club in Toronto. »

WATCH | The committee learns that Sport Canada was aware of an alleged assault 4 years ago:

Sport Canada was aware of the Hockey Canada allegations as early as 2018

Sport Canada, a federal department, was aware in 2018 of allegations of sexual misconduct at Hockey Canada but did not investigate, an official told a House of Commons committee. In the meantime, the Federal Sports Minister testifies that she was only informed of this last year.

Walzak surprised by Hockey Canada money

The letter comes as Hockey Canada has come under fire since members of the 2018 World Junior Team were charged with gang sexual assault after a gala in London, Ont. Police have not laid charges, but the woman at the center of the allegations sued Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and several players this spring.

Hockey Canada settled the case for an undisclosed sum and committee MPs are now probing how it handled the allegations and the lawsuit. Hockey Canada executives and others appeared before the House of Commons Heritage Committee on Wednesday.

Another sexual assault allegation against the 2003 World Junior Team emerged last week.

Hockey Canada, it was revealed, maintained a fund used in part to settle abuse claims, with $7.6 million paid out in nine settlements since 1989. The figure does not include the undisclosed amount of the lawsuit settlement related to the alleged incident in 2018.

“I was not at all surprised [by the news of assaults]”Walzak said. “What surprised me was how much money Hockey Canada has. It sounds really naive to say, but when I was in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League [Walzak was the chair of the women’s league’s board]when we had our financial problems, we went to Hockey Canada to ask for money.

“They gave us a little loan and we had to pay it back. It wasn’t even $100,000. It was next to nothing. And it was so hard…I felt like I was on my knees begging him. That’s how I was made to feel.”

“We absolutely have to be blatantly honest”

Sexual violence in sport is not uniquely Canadian, Walzak pointed out. She said the problem was too big to be solved by individual culture reviews or investigations by each sport. And allowing individuals to stay without being held accountable is like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

“We absolutely have to be blatantly honest in these conversations… All this white aggressive, physically dominant, heterosexual…the hockey world has to change and if we don’t do it with blatant honesty, and actually looking the ugly truths, then nothing will change,” she said.

“We have to be comfortable with the discomfort because people are being raped. They are being sexually assaulted. They are being destroyed. And they are children, they are young women, they are adults. And, there are hundreds of thousands of people who exist in the Hockey Canada system.”

LOOK | Sports Minister concerned about Hockey Canada’s leadership on CBC’s Power & Politics:

Sports Minister says Hockey Canada’s culture needs to change

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says she has asked the organization to report any allegations of abuse to her office and wants to see a change in the culture within the organization.

The open letter said there appears to be little knowledge in Canada of the International Olympic Committee’s three scientific “consensus statements” in 2007, 2016 and 2019, which warned sports organizations, including Hockey Canada, that harassment and sexual abuse happened in all sports and at all levels”[in] the locker room, the playing field, commuting, the coach’s house or car, and social events, especially when alcohol is involved.

“Team initiations or end-of-season celebrations may also involve sexually abusive behavior against individuals or groups,” the statements continue.

The consensus statements called for actions including independent regulation of sport at the local, provincial and national levels, openness and transparency for incident reporting, and investment in developing approaches to target and change violence. sexual.

“The latest allegations of sexual assault against women involving Canadian hockey players are deeply troubling,” said Taylor McKee, who studies hockey and sports culture at Brock University. “However, while these types of incidents are surprising and shocking to the public, academics and journalists have repeatedly documented these issues in hockey and we have been calling for action for decades.”

Gymnasts demand independent investigation

McKee helped organize the letter because he felt men needed to start “stepping up” to help fix the culture of the sport.

“Sexual violence in hockey has been documented in numerous studies over the past two decades, but Hockey Canada and the Canadian government have taken no steps to prevent these issues,” McKee said. “We hope that will now change. We need strong leadership from the Canadian government and investment in the development of evidence-based methods to address the cultural drivers of these issues.”

Hockey Canada has had its federal funding cut off and corporate sponsors suspended financial support following the alleged assault and the settlement.

More than 500 Canadian gymnasts – Gymnasts for Change – have asked St-Onge for an independent investigation into their sport amid what they say is a toxic culture of physical, mental and sexual abuse. And former gymnast Amelia Cline filed a class action lawsuit in May against Gymnastics Canada and six provincial member organizations for alleged abuse. The class has over 100 members.

Gymnasts for Change are in Ottawa for Heritage Committee meetings.

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