Hockey NB latest to withhold fees to Hockey Canada amid sex assault scandal

HALIFAX — Hockey New Brunswick is the latest provincial governing body to suspend its $3-per-player participant fee to Hockey Canada while the national governing body is under independent review.

The provincial hockey association said Friday it acknowledges growing concern about hockey culture and the sport's governance in Canada. It said in a statement it is "actively working to create education opportunities" that address sexual violence, masculinity and discrimination.

New Brunswick's decision to cut ties with the federal association follows similar moves by the Ontario Hockey Federation, Hockey Quebec and Hockey Nova Scotia. Hockey Eastern Ontario and Hockey Northwestern Ontario have also asked that their participant fees not be transferred to Hockey Canada.

Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since May, when it was revealed that an undisclosed settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged in a $3.55-million lawsuit she was sexually assaulted by eight players — including members of the country's world junior team — after a 2018 gala in London, Ont. Allegations of gang sexual assault involving the 2003 world junior team emerged in July.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

It has also been revealed that Hockey Canada kept a fund partly maintained by minor hockey registration fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.

Meanwhile, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador said Thursday it is proud to have recently established a sexual violence prevention program for its members, as well as an LGBTQ2+ policy, but it stopped short of cutting ties with Hockey Canada.

Laura Misener, director of Western University's school of kinesiology, says it's not surprising that some associations have cut ties with Hockey Canada while others — particularly smaller governing bodies — have not. Some hockey programs depend more than others on the federal body, she said.

"The decisions might not just be from a moral perspective of wanting … to see some real governance and leadership change (within Hockey Canada). I think it's also about making sure provinces can run their small programs in local communities and be able to function," Misener said in an interview Friday.

Misener said each province's funding structure and relationship to Hockey Canada is different, adding that freedom to cut ties with the national organization is likely connected to a province's ability to operate without the governing body's support.

"When a province like Quebec steps up and says they're stepping away from Hockey Canada … they have a lot of their own internal resources and opportunities for sponsorship resources," she said.

Misener also noted that while men are the centre of the Hockey Canada scandal, stepping away from the national governing body would have "significant implications for the women's game and for men and women's para hockey."

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said at the legislature Friday that the province is considering withdrawing sponsorship from Hockey Canada's world junior hockey tournament, set to take place in Moncton, N.B., and Halifax between Dec. 26 and Jan. 5, 2023. He noted that no decision has been made and any change would be done in partnership with Nova Scotia — the tournament's co-hosting province.

“Like everyone, we want to see Hockey Canada be accountable and address such issues in a way that leads to positive change," Higgs said in a statement Friday.

"The withdrawal of numerous sponsors is a concern that Hockey Canada's approach isn't sufficient. We agree," he said.

New Brunswick has agreed to provide $1.25 million to assist with the cost of hosting the tournament, but a spokesperson for the province said no money has been provided yet.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston expressed similar concerns Thursday, saying in a statement that before the tournament goes forward, he needs to see Hockey Canada implement "meaningful changes that respect the concerns of Nova Scotians and Canadians."

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said they were "deeply concerned about Hockey Canada’s lack of judgment and professionalism" and are also looking for "meaningful changes" before the world junior tournament takes place in their cities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press