Good morning, everyone.
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting No. 40 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is taking place on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Pursuant to the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, June 13, 2022, the committee is meeting for its study of Hockey Canada's involvement in alleged sexual assaults committed in 2018.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House of Commons order on June 23, 2022. We are therefore meeting virtually and in person.
I just have a few comments. Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike and to mute yourself when you're not speaking.
For those on Zoom, the interpretation is what looks like a little globe at the bottom, and you can get it in English or French. For those in the room, you already know how to do that.
All questions should be addressed through the chair.
I am informing the committee that all witnesses have completed the required connection tests in advance of the meeting, and I would now like to welcome our witnesses to the meeting.
We're going to welcome Danielle Robitaille from Henein Hutchison LLP.
Madame Robitaille, you have—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My name is Danielle Robitaille. I am a partner at the law firm Henein Hutchison.
On June 19, 2018, Henein Hutchison was contacted by Hockey Canada regarding allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the men's world junior hockey team at an event in London. It was our view that the London police should be contacted immediately. Based on our advice, Hockey Canada reported the matter to the police.
On June 21, 2018, we were retained to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations and whether any players had breached the Hockey Canada high performance code of conduct. I led the firm's investigation along with my law partner Alex Smith.
As this committee knows, independent investigations are frequently conducted by law firms for organizations facing serious allegations of misconduct. These investigations are conducted at arm's length in order to safeguard the independence of the investigation and to avoid potential bias.
Upon completion of our investigation, we will deliver a report to an adjudicative panel that will contain our impartial findings of fact about what happened in London.
There has been a lot of speculation in the press and elsewhere about what happened and who was involved in London. I will not comment on what did or did not happen, and who may or may not be responsible. This is an ongoing investigation and we do not yet know what did or did not occur. The goal of the investigation is to uncover the truth, but the investigation is active, and it would be inappropriate for me to prejudge the issue. It is critical that I keep my mind open to the evidence we are collecting and to safeguard the evidence collected to date as to not prejudge our investigation or any other investigation.
Here is a chronology of the steps taken so far in our investigation.
Between June 30 and July 11, 2018, we travelled to various locations across Canada and the United States and conducted interviews of 10 players out of the 19 who attended the event. On July 7, 2018, we learned that the London Police Service had opened its own investigation. We continued our investigation, as the police did not ask us to pause or stand down.
On July 13, 2018, seven players advised that they would not submit to interviews with my office pending the completion of the police interview. Around that same time, two players conveyed a blanket refusal to participate in our investigation. I have since learned that they meant to simply defer their participation until the conclusion of the criminal investigation.
Crucially, on July 13, 2018, counsel for the complainant also advised that she would not participate in our investigation until the police investigation had concluded. Notwithstanding that the player conduct investigation was on pause, we interviewed coaches and staff to report to Hockey Canada on broader policy issues. We then delivered to Hockey Canada an interim report dated September 14, 2018. The report identified policy issues that could be addressed by Hockey Canada while the conduct investigation was on hold.
On February 7, 2019, the police advised that they were closing their criminal investigation and no charges would be laid. We then contacted the complainant through her counsel to continue our investigation. Based on the facts collected in the summer of 2018, we concluded that the remaining player interviews should not be conducted until we received the complainant's statement.
Over the next 18 months, my office was in regular communication with the complainant's counsel requesting her participation. We sought her statement to allow us to proceed with our investigation and ultimately our search for the truth. Despite efforts to encourage the complainant to participate, she declined to provide her account to us at that time. Accordingly, we felt compelled to classify the investigation as closed without prejudice to its reopening if circumstances changed.
Circumstances have now changed. On July 9, 2022, the complainant advised that she was prepared to participate. We then received instructions to reopen our investigation. We now have the benefit of the complainant's detailed version of events, and I am now in a position to interview the remaining players.
I am here today to answer the committee's questions. There are three issues I wish to draw to the committee's attention that are deserving of some comment.
One, Hockey Canada has advised me that it's asserting solicitor-client privilege with respect to some of the discussions and work that we have performed. They have further advised that I'm not authorized to waive privilege. I was advised that this is to ensure Hockey Canada is not later held to have waived its privilege should this committee compel me to answer. I will await the committee's direction before answering. I am aware of the committee's power to compel answers and override claims of privilege. I will, of course, follow the direction of this committee and the Honourable Madam Chair.
Two, the committee may ask questions that call for answers that, if given, could undermine the integrity of our ongoing investigation. It is also critical that the anonymity of witnesses be maintained. If we find ourselves in circumstances that cause me concern as an independent investigator, I will alert Madam Chair and wait for the committee's direction.
Three, I understand that the committee requested that Hockey Canada produce documents in its possession that involve communications between Henein Hutchison and the players. You have some of that correspondence, but you don't have all of it. I should make it clear that Hockey Canada would only have some of our correspondence with players, and many of those pieces of correspondence remain solely in Henein Hutchison's possession.
I look forward to assisting the committee and answering your questions.
I think what was confusing to many people was that, when Hockey Canada asserted at the last meeting that it did not know the identify of the eight individuals, it seemed highly surprising to many of us in light of the interviews that were conducted.
Let me ask a different question. One of the other things that I think many were confused about was why players were not required to co-operate at the time and why no sanctions were imposed on those who don't. On June 20, Mr. Smith testified that, “On the advice of our third party investigator, we were not able to impose sanctions.” That's presumably on those who did not participate.“They advised that we lacked due process for them.”
Given that Mr. Smith himself spoke to that and clearly waived privilege on that issue, would you kindly elaborate as to that answer, whether you spoke to them about that and advised that you could not require them to participate or not allow them to be sanctioned because of due process issue?
There are two aspects to this answer, one of which is covered by solicitor-client privilege or the claim of solicitor-client privilege, but I take your point regarding what was testified to at the prior occasion. I'm not here to give out a legal opinion on the validity of that claim of privilege.
There were discussions around that issue. I'm not authorized to disclose them to this committee, absent direction from Madam Chair and the committee, so there's part of the answer that I cannot provide unless ordered to.
In relation to the second part of the answer, what I would say and what I think is important for the committee to understand, is that the issue of refusals had not crystalized at any point in my investigation. That is because of the conclusion that I drew, along with my law partner Alex Smith and supported by my law associates at the firm, that I should not interview the remaining players, absent the statement from the complainant. I needed her version of events to push forward in my investigation.
Once the criminal proceedings concluded, I focused my efforts on speaking with the complainant's counsel and attempting to facilitate obtaining that statement so that I would be equipped to move forward in my investigation. As I indicated in my opening statement, ultimately by September of 2020, after 18 months of those efforts not arriving to the place I had hoped they would, I closed the investigation without prejudice to reopening it at a later date—and, as I indicated, we are here now.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Robitaille, thank you very much for being with us.
Obviously, we would have liked to have been able to obtain the preliminary report, but we understand the circumstances.
I would like to come back to the basics. Hockey Canada told the committee that they did not hire a lawyer on June 19, 2018, and that it was only when the summary of the allegations was provided to them that lawyers were hired.
So Glen McCurdie contacted you on June 19, 2022. What time was it?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madame Robitaille. We certainly do appreciate that the questions that we're asking you are very pointed and that this does put you in, sometimes, an awkward position.
I'd like to come back to your testimony about the day of June 19. You stated that in the morning you were speaking with Hockey Canada and that you said at that time in the morning that this should be reported to the police. It is allegations of serious criminal acts, as we all understand.
Did you communicate that in the morning, that it should be reported to the police immediately?
So that's what you indicated, namely, that until you actually conducted the interview with the complainant, you decided, or it was decided, that investigating or asking questions of these other players wouldn't make any sense.
Can you explain to me...? I guess part of that issue, to me, is that we know that these people are sitting there and they have not been involved in questions. You've decided not to ask them; because of the young woman's not wanting to testify, you've decided not to go forward with these young men. I guess that's part of my question here: Why not?
I hear that. I guess for me, uncovering the truth is when one door is shut, I continue to say, “find a window”. I guess if Hockey Canada really wanted to get down to the fact that there was an alleged sexual assault in June of 2018, they would have wanted to do more to ensure that any of these players who might have been responsible were going to be held accountable.
I think those are some of my concerns.
One of my concerns as well is that some of these players, or whoever may have been involved, may now be coaching. These are young men mentoring our own next generation of young hockey players, so it's a huge concern of mine that we kind of just wiped our hands clean and walked away from this. Because the woman didn't come forward, the men still weren't going to be held accountable, yet they're getting to wear the maple leaf on their shirt. I just don't think that's...
To me, good hockey players are not all we need. We need great people off the ice as well, so I'm really hoping that Hockey Canada will take that into consideration.
When reaching out to the players, I know some had said that they weren't....How long did it take for you to reach out to them and for them to get back to you when you started this investigation?
These other players whom you had not contacted, why did you not connect with them all at the same time? Why was it pieced out that you were only connecting with so many and not all 19 of these players?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you for your testimony here today, Ms. Robitaille.
I'm also kind of seized with the issue that we heard from my colleague Ms. Vecchio, namely that everything stopped when the complainant didn't feel comfortable speaking to anyone. I'm wondering if you can reflect on that a bit more.
If there's a complainant who, for whatever many good reasons, doesn't feel comfortable or safe speaking to an investigator like you or to police, as an investigator, what do you think about that? Is it acceptable that we drop any further investigation because there's no official complaint?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and esteemed members of the committee.
My name is Michel Ruest, and I am the director of the Programs division in the Sport Canada Branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage. I have been in this role since the fall of 2017.
With me today is Isabelle Mondou, deputy minister of Canadian Heritage.
As the director of the Programs division, I am responsible for the management of Sport Canada's three funding programs; the athlete assistance, hosting and sport support programs. I'm also responsible for interacting with federally funded national sport organizations, Hockey Canada being one of them.
First, I would like to explain the process of how Sport Canada receives notifications of incidents of harassment, abuse and discrimination, and also when it became a requirement for national sport organizations to disclose those incidents to Sport Canada.
The disclosure process came into effect in June 2018 following a ministerial announcement by Minister Duncan about stronger measures being put in place by Sport Canada to help counter abuse in sport.
As of that date, federally funded sport organizations were to take all necessary measures to create a workplace free from harassment, abuse or discrimination of any kind.
They were required to disclose any incident of harassment, abuse or discrimination. They were to make provisions—within their governance framework—for access to an independent third party to address harassment and abuse cases, and they had to provide mandatory training on harassment and abuse to their members.
Sports organizations were also required to have a formal policy to address harassment and abuse in order to receive federal funding.
Following the announcement of these requirements in 2018, federally funded sport organizations began to disclose to Sport Canada incidents of harassment, abuse or discrimination in June 2018.
I will take a moment to describe the disclosure process to Sport Canada for you. The Sport Canada program analyst is advised by a given national sport organization that an incident has occurred. This information is then conveyed to the program analyst's manager, director and director general. It is then entered into a tracking document, and statistics relating to the number of cases and sports involved are communicated to higher levels.
On some occasions, allegations have been communicated by other stakeholders and to various departmental officials. When this happens, the program analyst checks with the organization to confirm the information.
The role of the program analyst is to ensure federally funded sport organizations have appropriate policies and independent processes in place and that, when an incident is disclosed, to ensure that organizations activate their internal policies and that complainants have access to an independent third party to review complaints and conduct investigations, or else they are referred to the relevant authorities, if required.
Note that Sport Canada does not have the mandate or authority to conduct investigations into incidents. Disclosures include minimal information and, in accordance with the Privacy Act, they do not include the names of any individuals unless they are already in the public domain.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
If I may, Madam Chair, can I add just a few elements to the answer to complete it?
After 2018, the work did not stop there. There were other measures that the minister took. One of those was to support financially the national sport coaching association to develop a code of conduct that has become the universal code of conduct, and it's now part of the requirement of our contribution agreement that every organization has to adopt that code. What that code does is state clearly for each organization what the expectations are in terms of safe sport. So, that was something else that the minister supported financially.
I also want to point out that at the time she had a national conversation with the sport sector, and there was another element that was felt necessary and that the minister started to initiate, which was to have another independent third party. My colleague talked about every organization's having the ability to have a third party, but what the minister initiated at the time was to add another body that would act as an independent third party from the organization, because we heard from athletes that they didn't always trust the internal third party.
This body was established and announced in the summer of 2021 by then , and it started operating as of June of this year as a body where every organization can now refer that third party case. The current minister has indicated that she wants to make that mandatory for all the organizations. That's part of this continuum of increased measures.
I also want to mention, maybe, that Minister St-Onge—and she will talk about that, too—in June announced that she is going to look at the contribution agreement and see what else we can add in order to increase the reporting. That will include governance, accountability and better follow-up for safe sport.
Mr. Ruest and Ms. Mondou, thank you for being here today.
I listened carefully to what you said in your opening remarks and when you answered questions in the first two rounds of questions.
What struck me last June when Hockey Canada appeared before the committee was their lack of compassion. They were talking about rape as something that is commonplace, like it is elsewhere in society, and that really struck me.
In your testimony, what strikes me is the slowness to respond and the coincidences between the release of information, which was only done this year, and the actions that are starting to be taken when we've been made aware of certain things.
According to what you say, measures have been put in place since 2018. You say it's moving forward, but I'm struck by how slow the measures are.
Let's get back to societal aggression and trivialization. Can you tell me how many of these incidents were reported to Sport Canada in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and even this year?
In their remarks last June, Hockey Canada officials were talking about two incidents per year.
Is that accurate?
In 2018, in the days following the incident, Tom Renney of Hockey Canada said he notified Sport Canada of the allegations against players on the 2017‑18 National Junior Hockey Team.
For her part, the Minister of Sport, Pascale St‑Onge, stated that she was first informed on May 24, 2022 of sexual allegations against players in the 2017‑18 roster.
The allegations were made in 2017‑18. You say the department was made aware of this. However, the minister tells us that she was only informed on May 24, 2022. What does this tell us about the flow of information within your department and its response?
Earlier, Ms. Mondou, you talked about the code of ethics and the fact that it was not a requirement for funding. You say that you have tightened requirements and that you want more rules and safety in sport. However, despite what you knew, it took public disclosure of the incident last spring, in May or June, for the minister to finally act and decide to suspend funding.
What about parents' sense of security? In my riding, there is a hockey coach who is one of those who raised his voice to express the parents' concern after learning about the incident and the timeline of the event.
First, I'm going to pick up on a few things from your previous question.
You are quite right that the allegations are absolutely horrific. That's how we feel about them at Sport Canada, and that's why action was taken in 2018.
Next, I would like to come back to how quickly things are moving.
Of course, we would always like to see things move more quickly. It may not seem like it, but there have been major additions to the complaint mechanism, including the improved the code of conduct and the establishment of an independent complaint mechanism since 2018.
I come to your question about the facts. According to those revealed in 2018, a police investigation was under way. Sport Canada does not have the means to investigate the progress of the police investigation and that is not its role. We expect organizations to keep us informed of developments, which are supposed to be included in annual reports.
However, the recently became aware of a new development. Hockey Canada told Sport Canada on May 24 that there were other developments that we were not aware of. There was an out‑of‑court settlement and the termination of the police investigation. Hockey Canada didn't tell us until May 24. So it was new to Sport Canada.
Sport Canada was aware of an ongoing police investigation. Police investigations can sometimes take a few years, so it was not surprising to Sport Canada that the investigation was still ongoing. What surprised us, however, is that we have not heard anything since.
I think that, right there, is the problem.
I think it's fair to say that Canadians have lost confidence. They've lost confidence in Hockey Canada. They're losing confidence in Sport Canada because we're not seeing the kind of attentive follow-up that would mean that these policies that are put into place are more than just vague words. That's why we're seeing the number of victims who have come forward.
We're certainly seeing that with 300 gymnasts. We're seeing that with the two dozen academics who wrote to this committee today saying that things need to fundamentally change to protect athletes and to protect other victims from sexual abuse, from sexual assault.
We're seeing a reaction from the Canadian public, and it is profoundly disturbing to me to see that in a case of a serious sexual assault, it's unclear what the follow-up was. As Mr. Nater said, the financing just kept coming to Hockey Canada.
Why have you not put into place obligatory policies to ensure that financing is dependent and verified to ensure that all these practices are followed through with every one of the national sports organizations?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm going to start with your mechanism “fair for all”. Well, it's not.
Hockey Canada has a lot of money. They paid probably hundreds of thousands to Henein Hutchison LLP for the investigation. I can tell you that for judo, wrestling and other sports, it's not a level playing field.
Last month we were informed there were 47 complaints filed with NSOs as of June 2022. So when Sport Canada goes through these recommendation, how is this fair? Hockey Canada, soccer, basketball, swimming and other sports have more reserves than any others. How can you sit and tell us that this is a level playing field—because it's not. There is no third party investigation that can pay for softball, that can pay for wrestling. This is flawed by the federal government. I see it. You see it.
How can we protect others who are not in the eight or nine top sports that we have in this country?
Glen McCurdie wrote to Hockey Canada on the day that he talked to your senior program analyst, Nicole Mulligan. I'll just state what he said at end of his email to Hockey Canada: “Nicole Mulligan thanked me for taking the time to make them aware, and said she had checked off all boxes with her actions to date. She commended us for our due diligence.”
That was June 26, 2018. You have to be kidding me: I mean, four years later this comes out, only because a reporter does some digging and brings this to light in April 2022. Otherwise, we would not even be here today, I would say.
How can your department check off all the boxes from what we know today happened four years ago with Hockey Canada? How can you give me a straight answer on this?
I won't comment on the recall of the person who had that conversation. Obviously, it's his recall and how he felt about the meeting. However, what I can say is that the requirement as per then minister new implementation measure was that there be a serious investigation by a third party.
In that case, Sport Canada was informed that the case was referred to the RCMP and that there would also be some reporting, which there was. They also mentioned at the time that they were going to provide some support for the victims, and hire an independent third party in addition to the RCMP investigation.
To your question, and I think Mr. Julian's question too, about why the funding is not stopping at the moment, you want these organizations to reveal this case. You want those organizations to actually take action on that. You don't want them to try to hide it because they don't want their accounting to be found. Every organization that has an economic mechanism, whether it's the public service or the private sector, has a mechanism in place, and they want people, when there is a case—hopefully, there is never a case—to report it. Cutting the funding at that moment is not the right thing to do because, at that point, you want them to do the right thing and investigate those cases.
What was different on May 24 is that we actually learned that they didn't quite do that, and that's why the minister at the time cut the funding and imposed three conditions. The first one was the audit, but she also said that she wanted them to sign on the independent third party.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I think that time should have gone to the Liberals, and the speaking time could have been given to someone else.
Nevertheless, I'd like to know whether Hockey Canada has signed on to the program administered by the OSIC.
Mr. Ruest, you just said that Hockey Canada had not signed on, but how did you find that out?
Was it through the organization's open letter that appeared in the media, or did Hockey Canada officials inform you more directly of the organization's plans to sign on to the program administered by the OSIC?
From the moment when Sheldon Kennedy sadly shared his experience and these policies were supposed to be put into place to protect victims and to stop them from being further victims, it would be useful for this committee to know how many times Sport Canada has actually stepped up and said to an organization, “You are not meeting your obligations.”
We are certainly hearing from organizations from more than almost a dozen different sports, where, as CBC has reported, people have raised concerns about sexual abuse. These things should be concerning to all of us.
I want to address the answer by the to my question last month just prior to this committee's meeting. I asked how many complaints had been reported to Sport Canada that are criminal in nature, and the response was, “Sport Canada does not have the capacity or expertise to determine whether incidents disclosed to it are of a criminal nature or not.”
We would all agree that gang sexual assault is criminal in nature. We would all agree that child sexual abuse is criminal in nature. Is that information kept in any way separate, so that when those statistics are reported, these allegations of serious criminal activity are actually reported as well to the ?
I call this meeting to order. We are currently studying the case of Hockey Canada's involvement in alleged sexual assaults committed in 2018.
Present is the Honourable Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Sport, and from the Department of Canadian Heritage, Isabelle Mondou, deputy minister.
Now we will begin with the minister.
Thank you, Minister, for taking the time to come. I know it's been very difficult for you with all of the things going on. I would ask you to begin your presentation. Go ahead for six minutes, please.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon.
I want to begin by acknowledging the athletes and safety in sport activists who are here today.
Just over a month ago, I appeared before the committee to express my deep indignation and help shed light on this sordid affair.
What we learned on May 26 was not only shocking, but also symptomatic of a deeper social issue. I'm talking about the culture of silence and the downplaying of sexual violence against women.
I still wholly share the anger felt by all Canadians, especially Canadian families, who rightfully want to see Hockey Canada held to account in order to bring about real change. I have to tell you, our confidence in Hockey Canada and its leadership is at an all-time low.
Since Hockey Canada officials appeared before the committee on June 20, we have learned of more troubling allegations. An allegation of rape dating back to 2003 came to light, as did the existence of a dedicated fund to settle sexual misconduct cases.
Above all, these revelations illustrate a deeply entrenched toxic culture, one that allows individuals to act with impunity. What damning information is going to come out next week or next month? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know it's what everyone following this affair is wondering.
We are expecting a lot of Hockey Canada's leaders. They have a long road ahead to win back our trust. Simply put, they must get it right.
In the days after Hockey Canada's appearance before the committee, I made the decision to freeze the organization's funding and impose new conditions. They include having to participate in a financial audit to determine whether public funds were used for the out-of-court settlement, as well as disclosing the recommendations made by the law firm Henein Hutchison LLP and the action plan to implement those recommendations. Lastly, I directed the organization to speed up efforts to become a signatory to the program administered by the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner.
I did that because the testimony of the Hockey Canada officials was anything but reassuring. I realized that they failed to grasp how serious the situation was, and they needed to understand that this was a tipping point.
A few weeks ago, of course, Hockey Canada publicly committed to take action and, yesterday, released its action plan. That is clearly a step in the right direction. The organization's leadership has to do more than state its intentions, however. In the coming weeks and months, it must show that every effort is being made to bring about real culture change.
I hope what we are seeing is not an exercise in public relations meant to clean up the organization's image. That would be simply unacceptable.
Hockey Canada should not underestimate the work ahead. The organization's board and management leaders have a moral responsibility to reflect on the role they should play in what comes next. They must ask themselves if they are the right people to effect culture change.
Is this group of leaders adequately equipped to carry out a system-wide change? Is there enough diversity in decision-making roles to drive change? Are there enough women in significant leadership positions within Hockey Canada to provide needed perspectives on sexual violence and its impact?
Hockey Canada should be asked all of these questions. The nature of their answers will determine the credibility of the organization and the level of seriousness that they propose to take in their next steps.
Hockey Canada must also take the situation as an opportunity to make a fundamental shift on the underlying violence in the sport, including in issues such as racism, concussions and fighting on the ice. Canadians expect Hockey Canada to behave differently, and this requires leadership capable of doing so.
Hockey Canada, the whole country is watching.
The world junior hockey championship is taking place next month.
I have a message for those young players and the people around them: what allegedly happened in 2003 and 2018 no longer goes. I want to take this opportunity, here and now, to make that clear.
As Minister of Sport, I encourage you to push yourself and strive for excellence, not only on the ice, but also off the ice.
Young players from all over the country will be watching and looking to you as their inspiration in the game. Entire families and communities with a passion for hockey will be there to support and encourage you. Make them proud. Be the role models they deserve. Above all, give the public, and especially women, what they expect from you: respect.
Members of the committee and Madam Chair, thank you for your attention.
To say that the department has no program to address the situation is not true.
Before this government, my predecessors had taken action. In particular, Kristie Duncan worked with partners to develop a new code of conduct in 2018, and sport organizations can now rely on that code.
The newly created Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner will also have the support of the code in conducting sport environment assessments and reviewing athletes' complaints regarding violence and abuse.
Those are measures our government has taken since 2018, but there is still work to do.
I have already announced that I will be conducting a full review of the funding regime in the next year. That will involve raising the threshold when it comes to funding criteria. Organizations will have to have better governance practices, show transparency and sign on to the program administered by the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner.
It's an ongoing process that we, as a government, undertook in 2018.
Sport Canada is not a regulator and doesn't have investigative authority. Our relationship with the sport organizations is, first and foremost, a financial one. We have contribution agreements with them, and we distribute public funds to them. Under those contribution agreements, we set out certain conditions.
Sport Canada has neither the mandate nor the power to investigate cases that are brought to its attention. It does, however, ensure that the organizations have independent mechanisms to investigate allegations.
Something I would say about the complaint mechanisms put in place by the federations is that athletes don't consider them to be independent enough, because the federations are the ones paying these independent organizations and agencies.
That is why our government created the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner. In the most recent budget, $16 million in funding was earmarked for the office, to create a truly independent mechanism where athletes could turn to report abuse, and to ensure investigations, sanctions and recommendations were overseen by the office.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, I, too, applaud the women's hockey team for their statement.
I agree with you that they did the right thing and that women should be more involved in high-level decision-making, especially at Hockey Canada.
I want to thank you for the leadership you've shown since this whole situation began. We appreciate it.
I'd like to know whether you're satisfied with how Sport Canada, an organization in your department, handled the cases of abuse that were reported or brought to your attention.
Conducting investigations is part of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner's mandate, but the office clearly won't replace the traditional court system, criminal or otherwise.
However, when it comes to practices in sport, the commissioner's office can impose sanctions in cases of assault or abuse. The OSIC is certainly empowered to conduct investigations.
Something else worth noting is that this is a new mechanism. Canada has never had anything like it before. The office just launched on June 20. Everyone was supportive of Sarah‑Ève Pelletier's appointment as commissioner. She has tremendous experience, as a member of the sports community and a lawyer. She is an expert on athlete safety. She needs time to become familiar with the job and to conduct her first investigations. If the office's mandate or process needs improving, we will improve it.
My focus—and I have made this my mission—is making sure that the mechanism is effective and that athletes see the commissioner's office as a safe place to turn to when they have been the victim of an assault or maltreatment.
That involves legal considerations that would have to be examined.
As I said, the relationship we have with sport organizations is, first and foremost, a financial one. What binds us is a contribution agreement, a contract between two parties. That means I have limited authority as far as direct involvement in Hockey Canada goes.
However, in the wake of Hockey Canada's funding being frozen, we saw sponsors following suit, as well as an outcry and significant pressure from the public.
I would say that the most important people Hockey Canada has to answer to are members of the public, players, athletes, parents and young people playing hockey, all of whom expect a lot of Hockey Canada.
I said this, and I will say it again, Hockey Canada's leadership has to get it right. Gone are the days of doing things the same old way. Gone are the days of receiving a report and disregarding the recommendations.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank the minister for her remarks, which I think are very sincere.
Minister, I know you are being very sincere when you answer our questions, but it takes more than sincerity and fine words to end this crisis, as you so aptly described it. As a result of this crisis, new victims are being preyed on every single day.
It is true that Hockey Canada failed in its duty. It is also true that Sport Canada failed in its duty to protect the victims we heard about in Radio-Canada news reports, victims across a dozen or so sports, winter and summer—hockey, soccer, gymnastics and wrestling, just to name a few.
The reality is this is a crisis. People are still falling victim to sexual assault and abuse in sport. That shouldn't stand. Sport Canada should have done something years ago; it should have been more diligent and made sure that funding was tied to very strict conditions.
What do you have to say to all those people who were victims for years and are now coming forward? They were victims because Sport Canada didn't do any fact-checking, because it didn't require the 60 or so existing organizations to introduce processes to combat abuse in all forms, or to enforce zero-tolerance policies.
Earlier, we spoke with representatives of your department about the measures to take to combat harassment. This question was raised in connection with the unfortunate story of Sheldon Kennedy.
For 25 years, every sport organization has been expected to put an independent mechanism in place to combat harassment, and an independent procedure for people to be able to report alleged harassment. Today, we have learned that the department never verified anything.
Do you now intend to verify the information provided by all national organizations, to make sure that you no longer rely on the honour system and rely instead on actual facts? If they do not meet the requirements, they should not receive funding.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm going to share my time with Mr. Martel.
Minister, you talked about Hockey Canada, and I'm going to give you this. I think Sport Canada has to share the blame. The person to the right of you knew what happened on June 26, 2018, and did nothing.
You can point fingers at Hockey Canada all you wish. I'm pointing fingers at Sport Canada. They could have stopped this. Yes, you pulled the funding in 2022 in June. I think the person to the right of you should have directed the minister in 2018 to do something, and it wasn't done. Sport Canada needs to own this as much as Hockey Canada and as much as gymnastics.
Canadians are looking for leadership from Sport Canada, and quite frankly, given the memo I read from Glen McCurdie to his staff at Hockey Canada, they haven't seen any leadership from Sport Canada.
I want you to comment on that.
Minister, I want to start by saying thank you for your testimony today and for the acknowledgement of the crisis in sport across this country and the issues. In addition to sexual violence, there are issues around racism and equity, but we also know there are issues around mental health in sport.
I got to see a glimpse of the complexity of the sector myself when I was the minister responsible for sport and for the delivery of the Pan Am Games back in 2015. It was astonishing to see the extent of responsibility and the complexity of sports organizations. There is the challenge of not only jurisdictional pieces, but also of holding organizations compliant based on the fact that a lot of their funding comes from outside of government. A lot of money flows from many different places into these organizations.
Make no mistake: We know that governments have tools and the minister has tools to ensure that organizations are doing what's best for the folks they serve.
Minister, what is your next move to ensure that sports organizations in our country are transparent and accountable, and that these organizations follow what we as Canadians see as the best pathway to ensure that we raise the next generation of athletes in a way that Canadians would be proud of? What's your next move?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, we had a chance to talk after Hockey Canada officials appeared before the committee in June. What struck me at the time was that they spoke of one or two cases of rape as something trivial, saying that it also happens in society. The word “trivialized” has also been used by parents and coaches, like François Lemay in Granby, who used the word and questioned the will to change.
What strikes me today, after hearing the representatives of Sport Canada, is the divide that exists between Sport Canada's reaction and the will that motivates you. My sense is that you are determined to turn things around. You have frozen Hockey Canada's funding; that's serious. However, it is something else entirely to let accusations like that drag on for four years. The Sport Canada representatives even said that the department should have perhaps intervened, when there was no follow‑up. This is stated as a possibility, when it should have been said in definite terms.
What are you going to do, to get your job done, given the divide that exists between your will to act and Sport Canada's reaction? The divide obviously exists, and that has been demonstrated today.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I have two questions for you, Madam Minister.
First off, you were kept in the dark. After you became minister, you were not informed by Sport Canada about these serious allegations.
Have you directed staff at Sport Canada to keep you informed any time there are allegations of criminal activity? I'm talking about sexual assault and sexual abuse. Have you directed now to be informed when those cases come forward?
My second question is about the national equity fund. Are you aware of how many of these national sports organizations have put in place funding to compensate victims rather than putting in place every measure to prevent further victims? How many of the 60 organizations have that?
That would be very helpful information.
Also, I understand, Madam Minister, that you are now going to be directly informed. No minister will be kept in the dark anymore about serious allegations of criminal activity. I'm happy to hear that. That is important.
I think it's fair to say that victims have been let down. They've been let down by Sport Canada over the course of, I would suggest, the last few years certainly and potentially the last couple of decades. You are certainly standing with the victims. That is important, but I think it's also important to acknowledge that Sport Canada failed at its task of making sure that we have in place safe sports and safety for athletes who could be victims, but also safety for the general public, who could be victims.
The discourse around wrongdoing, abuse and sexual assault changes over time, not just in sport, but also in society in general.
Today, in 2022, we are no longer where we were in 2010 or 2000 or 1990.
In 2018, the government took serious steps to start to get a better idea of what was going on in sport in Canada. Before that, we had no information.
Concrete measures have been put in place since 2018, and I'm going to continue working to provide Sport Canada with proper tools. We will have the help of experts, who will be guiding us in this transformation, to make sure we are able to achieve it.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to follow up exactly where Mr. Julian left off. It's on the concept of accountability. I was exceptionally upset with Hockey Canada that there were no accountability measures in place. I'm equally upset that there hasn't been the same accountability with Sport Canada.
Minister, the person to your right knew of these allegations four years ago—just two weeks after then minister made a major announcement about safe sport. He didn't even see fit to ensure that the minister, who just two weeks earlier had made this major announcement, was informed of these very serious allegations. He spent four years in possession of this information and did not inform the minister's office and did not follow up.
You made mention that you're not sure the current leadership at Hockey Canada has the right individuals to carry on, but I question you. Do you think the person sitting next to you is the right person to be leading change within Sport Canada, when we have seen his failure, and his organization's failure, to follow up on these allegations?
Where is the accountability within Sport Canada? Have you spoken to Sport Canada officials, specifically Mr. Ruest, to say that what he did for the past four years was not acceptable and that you expect more from that organization?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the minister for being here today.
From discussions with constituents and people everywhere, I know parents want to see change. Canadians want to see change. We see that trust in Hockey Canada has definitely been lost.
Minister, as you mentioned a number of times and as we understand, Sport Canada is not a regulatory agency. It's through funding agreements that we can impose these conditions. We also see that suspending funding is a very strong lever for applying these conditions. I do not think—and I don't think anyone thinks—it's a coincidence that since Sport Canada stopped its funding and private companies pulled their sponsorship funding from Hockey Canada, it's only now they're claiming to step up and do more to address the toxic culture.
If it takes a federal freeze on funds, a financial audit and corporate sponsors pulling their support, are you prepared to halt funding to other sports organizations if they're not complying with the funding conditions that are now in place?
Thank you very much, Minister.
That puts an end to this hour of hearings. I want to thank the minister and her officials for coming.
I also want to thank my colleagues. It's been a long, long haul, with the number of hours we've done, although Mr. Housefather is sitting on the Mediterranean looking gorgeous. I think the important thing is that we need to see you back again tomorrow, ready to roll. Thank you very much.
Thank you to the clerk and all of the interpreters, etc., for making sure that we could hold this meeting.
Will everyone accept that this meeting be adjourned? Yes?