Sexual assault prevention training required for athletes, coaches and staff at 2023 world juniors

The Nova Scotia government says it will require every person representing Hockey Canada at the upcoming 2023 World Junior Championship to sign an anti-harassment policy and take “sexual assault and harassment prevention” training.

The requirement covers Hockey Canada athletes, coaches and staff and comes after months of criticism over how Hockey Canada has handled allegations of sexual assault.

Management with the International Ice Hockey Federation will also have to take training, and the event, which runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Halifax and Moncton, will have “heightened” security.

The requirements are part of a contribution agreement with Hockey Canada that will see the province provide $2 million to host the tournament. Records obtained by CBC News through access to information show the agreement has been in the works for months, but the government says it still hasn’t been finalized.

A lawyer and top senior staffer to Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston called for that agreement to include language around how to handle claims of sexual abuse and harassment, the records show.

“Ideally, we want to ensure there are provisions in the contract that accommodate for any issues arising with claims of sexual assault/harassment,” Nicole LaFosse Parker, Houston’s chief of staff and general counsel, wrote in an email on July 28.

One day before that email was sent, top Hockey Canada executives told a House of Commons committee that the organization has paid out $8.9 million in sexual abuse settlements since 1989.

And five days before that, TSN reported that the Halifax Regional Police opened a criminal investigation into an allegation that members of the 2003 Canadian World Junior team were involved in a group sexual assault during the tournament, which was held in Halifax.

In addition to the police investigation, Hockey Canada says it appointed a third-party independent investigator to look into the 2003 allegations, and that investigation is still going on.

A woman sits in a chair with a pen in her hand and a folder of papers.
Kristina Fifield is a trauma therapist with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says the province’s measures are good but lacking accountability on what happens if sexual violence happens. (Robert Short/CBC)

Kristina Fifield is a trauma therapist and the provincial community co-ordinator at Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax.

She said the province’s requirements are important measures, but she still has questions.

“It’s one piece of the measures that are necessary here, because all of those measures are still not addressing the accountability if there’s sexualized violence that is taking place, what that’s going to look like if this does happen at the tournament?” Fifield said.

“How do we create safe spaces, but also how [are] acts of violence going to be addressed if there [are] situations?” 

N.B. still finalizing agreement with Hockey Canada

The New Brunswick government is still finalizing details of its agreement with Hockey Canada, according to a spokesperson.

It will spend $1.25 million to host the tournament, but the government says it hasn’t transferred any of that money to Hockey Canada yet.

“We are ensuring that the agreement reached with Hockey Canada will have conditions in place to safeguard the province’s investment and see the organization be accountable and address toxic behavioural issues in a way that leads to positive change,” Mark Taylor, a Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Scotiabank Centre in Halifax will host World Junior Championship games, beginning in December. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

It’s unusual for governments to not have finalized contribution agreements with Hockey Canada when the event is only one month away, according to Gilles LeVasseur, a business and law professor at the University of Ottawa. He said those agreements are typically signed six to eight months in advance.

“A month doesn’t seem that much when you’re dealing with a very, very high-profile event,” LeVasseur said.

The Halifax Regional Municipality committed to spending $1 million to host the tournament. It’s not clear whether its agreement with Hockey Canada has been finalized yet.

N.B. still ‘concerned’ about Hockey Canada issues

Last month, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said he was considering cutting ties with the tournament if Hockey Canada didn’t take stronger action.

Several days later, after Hockey Canada announced CEO Scott Smith and the board of directors would resign, Higgs issued a statement saying it was an important step toward accountability and change.

Taylor said the government “remains concerned about the issues facing Hockey Canada,” but he didn’t say whether the province is still considering cutting ties.

“We share the sentiment of many people that if Hockey Canada is to be taken seriously, it must continue to address the ongoing problems within the organization to earn back the trust of Canadians.”

In a statement, Hockey Canada spokesperson Jeremy Knight said the organization has recently taken steps to “establish standards, policies and procedures to prevent harassment, discrimination, racism and sexual violence on and off the ice.”

That includes mandatory training on sexual violence and consent for all national team players, coaches and staff, which began in July. Anyone who attends the team’s upcoming World Junior selection camp will have to take the training if they haven’t already done so, Knight said.

The organization has also developed an “event security plan” for the 2023 World Junior tournament. Hockey Canada says this includes “enhanced team rules and increased supervision of players, coaches and staff, with a zero tolerance policy for acts of harassment, discrimination, racism and sexual violence.” 

Moncton councillors told not to talk to media 

The City of Moncton will spend $750,000 to host the event. Its city council approved the details of the agreement with Hockey Canada on Monday.

“They are certainly making inroads, I think, with the resignation of the board and the chair and the CEO,” Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said after the unanimous vote.

Ads are up promoting the 2023 World Junior Championship in downtown Moncton. Halifax and Moncton will host the tournament beginning Dec. 26. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

“I think that set things up properly. They certainly are making a lot of movement toward being a more open and inclusive organization. But we need to remember that this is an international hockey tournament, and if you’ve been downtown Moncton, you’ve seen the signs. We’re up and we’re ready to welcome the world to our community.”

As new revelations emerged over the summer, and calls for change at Hockey Canada mounted, the records obtained by CBC detail how officials in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick continued to plan the tournament, with assurances from Hockey Canada.

On July 21, as reporters started asking the City of Moncton questions about the growing Hockey Canada controversy, documents show the city’s communications director, Isabelle LeBlanc, told them to forward media requests about the topic to her, and they would be sent to the provincial government.

When CBC asked why she told councillors not to comment on an issue of public interest, LeBlanc said the four host provinces had decided the provincial governments would be “the lead organizations for all media requests.” 

The next day, after news emerged of a sexual assault allegation involving the 2003 Canadian World Junior team, a consultant hired by Hockey Canada emailed the organization’s news release to government representatives in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

“Based on this, we are pausing the launch of ticket sales for the 2023 World Junior Championship which was to take place next week with season ticket holders for the Halifax Mooseheads and Moncton Wildcats,” the consultant, Grant MacDonald, wrote. 

“Let me know if you have questions and I am available this afternoon to discuss but wanted you to hear this from me.”

Premiers steer clear of appearance at 2022 tournament

Behind the scenes, plans were underway to have representatives from governments in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick attend the rescheduled 2022 World Junior tournament in Edmonton this past August.

It appears those plans originally included both premiers. But by July, the premiers were no longer planning to go.

In an email, the Nova Scotia premier’s chief of staff said the government wanted “only the absolutely minimum required number of persons” to go to the August event.

The Nova Scotia government didn’t end up sending any representatives to the 2022 World Junior tournament in Edmonton. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

“We will not be sending any ministers or MLAs, so it would be department staff,” LaFosse Parker wrote on July 28.

The Nova Scotia government told CBC it didn’t end up sending anyone to the tournament.

In New Brunswick, four government staff, including Yennah Hurley, the deputy minister of tourism, heritage and culture, travelled to Edmonton, with Hockey Canada picking up the cost of their hotel rooms. 

The City of Moncton spent just under $7,500 to send three city employees to Edmonton. The Halifax Regional Municipality didn’t respond to questions about how many staff, if any, it sent.

‘No wavering of support from sponsors’

On July 28, after Hockey Canada staff appeared at two days of House of Commons committee hearings, and as sponsors began to distance themselves from the organization, Hockey Canada hosted a call with the 2023 tournament hosts. CBC obtained notes from that meeting, which were sent to staff in the Nova Scotia premier’s office.

The notes say several sponsors “paused activation” for the rescheduled August 2022 World Junior tournament in Edmonton, but “there is absolutely no indication of corporate withdrawal from any Hockey Canada event including Halifax/Moncton.”

The notes suggest that Hockey Canada planned to work on attracting more sponsorship dollars.

“They have engaged in some sponsor prospecting and will ramp up sponsor pitching shortly,” the notes say. “Early indications show no wavering of support from sponsors.” 

In October, after Hockey Canada made another appearance in front of the Commons committee, a number of sponsors distanced themselves further from the organization. Some cut ties entirely, and others have redirected their support toward women’s hockey and Para hockey programs.

If you have a tip about this story, you can reach NB Investigates by clicking here.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911. 

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