WARNING: This article contains abuse details.
As Hockey Canada grapples with the public fallout over its organization’s handling of sexual assault claims in the past, some Canadians are wondering how anyone could trust hockey’s national governing body and are calling for action and change at all levels of sport.
“I’m not sure it’s still possible for women to trust an organization with that kind of history,” said Beatrice van Dijk, mother of four girls who played hockey in Toronto. Cross country review.
“I’m not sure it’s possible for parents who care about young men being raised in an environment of non-toxic, non-highly sexualized power to trust an institution that has allowed such behavior. “
The Hockey Canada controversy began in May, when the organization reached a settlement with a young woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted in 2018 by eight Canadian Hockey League players, including members of the World Junior Team of that year.
Since then, Sport Canada, an arm of the federal Department of Heritage, has frozen funding for Hockey Canada. Several sponsors, including Scotiabank and Tim Hortons, have suspended or withdrawn their sponsorships of the organization.
Halifax police have also opened an investigation into a separate 2003 gang sexual assault allegation involving members of Canada’s 2003 World Juniors team.
Lack of responsibility
Hockey Canada executives testifying before a House of Commons committee on Wednesday said they had paid $8.9 million for sexual abuse settlements to 21 plaintiffs since 1989 from the “National Equity Fund,” which, according to them, is generated by membership fees and investments.
It’s an embarrassing time for a Canadian associated with hockey.-Beatrice van Dijk, mother of four hockey-playing daughters
Van Dijk, whose husband was a professional hockey player in Germany, said it shows action is not being taken to hold people accountable.
“It’s an embarrassing time to be a Canadian associated with hockey,” she said.
“I don’t know why you would want to accept an invitation to attend one of Hockey Canada’s events, given that it has been tarnished by this story.”
Van Dijk, who is 48 and now lives in New York state, says incidents like the one Hockey Canada is currently dealing with are nothing new.
“Everyone seems to think it’s going to go away on its own, and nobody wants to talk about the details.”
Subway morning7:57Hockey mom and coach says Hockey Canada sex assault scandal is result of ‘complete institutional failure’
A long-standing problem
Former Canadian Hockey League goaltender Brock McGillis has first-hand experience of the toxic culture of hockey.
He played for the Windsor Spitfires and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League from 2001 to 2002. He was in his late teens at the time and said his experiences in the junior hockey locker room made him hate his life.
“The impact of being a gay man in there, of hiding who I was and adhering to norms and becoming a philandering hockey brother – and what it did to me, I mean, quite honestly, I was going home … and trying to die by suicide,” he said. Cross Country Record.
McGillis, who came out in November 2016, says conformity is one of the biggest barriers to hockey culture.
“People dress the same…talk the same whether they are or not,” he said. “There’s no place to be anything other than the norm – and if you are, you’re different.”
According to McGillis, because the players are predominantly white, mostly middle to upper class, and generally assumed to be straight, it creates an environment in the locker room where people can say and do things without being held accountable, including using language and engaging in behavior that hurts women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ community.
“Then, in turn, you see thoughts and behaviors that lead to bigotry, misogyny, and sexual assault.”
Day 69:02Hockey Canada’s ongoing problem with sexism and misogyny
Some of the blame lies with the adults in those spaces for not doing more to hold those players accountable, McGillis says, citing coaches who come from the same culture and reinforce it in their own coaching.
“And usually hockey players have hockey babies,” he said. “Parents who come from the hockey culture place their kids in hockey. So it’s a learned and normalized culture.”
No one wants to be the person who seems to be stirring the pot.-Theresa Bailey, co-founder of Canadian Hockey Moms
Theresa Bailey, a hockey parent for about 16 years and co-founder of advice website Canadian Hockey Moms, says parents want to have those conversations, but avoid speaking publicly for fear their kids will face repercussions.
“I think everybody wants to talk about these things, but nobody wants to get in trouble with member associations or provincial associations,” she said. Cross Country Record.
“Nobody wants to be the person who looks like they’re stirring the pot.”
Bailey says she thinks people in positions of power in minor hockey associations that are typically volunteer-based aren’t equipped or trained enough to deal with the toxic aspects of hockey culture.
“It’s tricky,” she said. “I’ve seen people not really know how to deal with some of the issues that come up, or deal with them in a way that prevents people from coming forward.”
To take a position
Bailey believes the best way to eliminate the toxic atmosphere is for Hockey Canada and similar associations to encourage diversity within teams, coaching staffs and the board of directors.
“I don’t know what else to do but put people in there with differing opinions that won’t be shut down.”
Looking ahead, van Dijk believes there is an opportunity to fix hockey culture – and the first step is for parents to take a stand with their wallets when it comes to paying fees in associations local hockey.
“I would say, ‘I’ll pay you that fee, but only if you don’t pay anything to the provincial hockey association until that provincial hockey association takes a stand on Hockey Canada,'” she said.
“Because our fees are going to enable confusing, toxic and predatory sexual behavior among young men, and we don’t want that kind of society.”
Support is available for anyone who has experienced sexual assault. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Canadian Association for the Elimination of Violence Database. If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety or the safety of those around you, please call 911.
If you or someone you know is having trouble, here’s where to get help:
This guide to Center for Addiction and Mental Health explains how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.
Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Abby Plener and Steve Howard.