'I'm truly disgusted': N.W.T. hockey board members, parents react to Hockey Canada scandal

·4 min read
A hockey stick under the northern lights. Parents, board members, and hockey associations in the North are voicing their concerns amid Hockey Canada’s ongoing scandal regarding the organization’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations.   (Submitted by Bill Gordon - image credit)
A hockey stick under the northern lights. Parents, board members, and hockey associations in the North are voicing their concerns amid Hockey Canada’s ongoing scandal regarding the organization’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations. (Submitted by Bill Gordon - image credit)

Parents, board members, and hockey associations in the North are voicing their concerns amid Hockey Canada's ongoing scandal regarding the organization's mishandling of sexual assault allegations.

Frank Walsh, a father of two children that play in the Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association, said he was unhappy to hear that Hockey Canada had used a fund, made up in part by minor hockey league registration fees, to settle past sexual assault allegations.

"You trust that what you're paying is going to the right places," said Walsh.

"I pay for my kids to play hockey. I don't pay for my association to cover-up wrong-doings."

Hockey Canada has been under fire since revelations that it had paid millions in cash settlements to complainants of sexual abuse allegations, in some cases. At least one settlement came with a non-disclosure agreement that prevented the complainant from speaking further about the matter.

The controversy has set off a nationwide discussion of a so-called "toxic hockey culture," a problem that Hockey Canada has announced it is working to address.

Last week, Hockey Quebec submitted a letter, stating that all 13 of the country's provincial and territorial branches had filed a request for an "extraordinary" meeting with Hockey Canada in light of their handling of sexual assault allegations. On Tuesday, Hockey Canada announced that it had met with the 13 regional branches, and that Andrea Skinner had been appointed as interim board chair.

Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press

Speaking to CBC News earlier this week, Kyle Kugler, the executive director of Hockey North, said that he was not aware of the letter from Hockey Quebec. Hockey North is responsible for all ice hockey in both the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

In an email, Kugler said that Sam Shannon, president of Hockey North, and Stu Impett, president of Hockey N.W.T., were both out of the territory.

Kugler declined to comment further on the ongoing controversy, but did outline the financial relationship between the national and regional organizations.

"Hockey N.W.T. and Hockey Nunavut pay their insurance fees to Hockey North, and Hockey North pays Hockey Canada," wrote Kugler in an email.

According to the information, Hockey Canada charges an annual fee of $23.80 per player, which includes both registration and insurance fees. Some of that money had been used to settle claims of sexual assault.

'I can't condone it'     

Bill Gordon, the director of ethics and discipline of the Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association, was upset to find out how registration fees had been used.

Gordon noted that his responses were his own opinion and not reflective of the board.

"What Hockey Canada has done in using registration money that our kids have paid in order to pay out hush money — I can't condone it," he said. "I'm truly disgusted with Hockey Canada's behaviour."

CBC News reached out to several hockey organizations in the North including the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association, Hockey N.W.T., the Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association, Hockey Yukon, and the Yellowknife Women's Hockey Association. Most board members and executives declined to comment.

Submitted by Bill Gordon
Submitted by Bill Gordon

Gordon was not surprised to hear that people were hesitant to speak to the media.

"I think they're declining because they're nervous. They're scared. They don't want it blowing back on them," he said.

"Toxic hockey culture are words that have been spoken in our boardroom," said Gordon. "We're very much aware of hockey culture."

Gordon had been considering sending his 12-year-old son out of the territory, so he would be able to play hockey at a higher level. But news of the sexual assault settlements left Gordon uncomfortable with having his son live away from his family, where he would be "billeted out to strangers' homes."

"We have withdrawn him from that stream, and we're keeping him in Yellowknife for the next three years."

Gordon believes that toxic hockey culture stems from the way young hockey players are being parented and raised.

"If Hockey Canada and our minor hockey associations are teaching kids to act out in that way, then we need to change what we're doing," he said.

Problem is 'not just in hockey'

In a phone interview with CBC News, Kacee MacLean, a board member of both Hockey N.W.T. and Hockey North, emphasized a need for more education surrounding consent, which "really does start at home."

She'd also like to see more women represented on the board of Hockey Canada and other hockey associations.

But, she says, there isn't a "toxic culture" specific to hockey. MacLean pointed to allegations of sexual abuse made in football, soccer, gymnastics and basketball.

"These court cases have shown up time and time again through all the different sports," she said.

"In high-level sport, there's improvements to be made. And it's not just in hockey."