Bruce Arthur: Disclosing the details of Hockey Canada’s slush fund a first step to breaking the cover-up culture the sport incubates

Canada

How did this happen, and who is responsible? They’re popular questions when things get rough, so they’re popular all over the world these days. When it comes to Hockey Canada and the 2018 sexual assault settlement involving eight players that is roiling the sport, we’re getting closer to the answers, despite the best efforts of some involved.

It is the messy road toward transparency, one hopes. Lawyers for the still-unidentified players are releasing what they hope will be exculpatory videos and texts to media; Hockey Canada is responding to fresh reporting on the source of the settlement money; the Prime Minister is blasting Hockey Canada; more players from the 2018 world junior team are publicly stating they were not involved in the alleged incident. It’s a lot to keep track of.

But it all still points to a culture and a sport that found it easy to cover up an alleged sexual assault. It has been reported by multiple outlets that lawyers for the players — who have not been publicly identified — are sharing a video of the woman agreeing that night to an unspecified sexual act, and another in which she confirms the encounter was consensual, and claims not to be intoxicated.

“Are you recording me?” the woman says in the second video. “OK, good. It was all consensual. You are so paranoid. Holy. I enjoyed it. It was fine. It was all consensual. I am so sober, that’s why I can’t do this right now.”

But the lawyers also released texts sent the next day between the victim and the player she left the bar with in which he asks if she is going to police, and she writes, “I was really drunk, didn’t feel good about it at all after and I was ok with going home with you, it was everyone else afterwards that I wasn’t expecting.” It all seems like a familiar, ugly attempt to muddy the waters as much as render them clear.

Still, Hockey Canada hurriedly settled the suit — perhaps notably, after being contacted by TSN’s Rick Westhead for a potential story about it — and that is the bigger picture here. The Globe and Mail’s Grant Robertson reported that the money used to settle the $3.55-million claim came from a previously undisclosed multimillion-dollar fund seeded by player registrations, and that the fund was first recorded in 2013.

It is called the National Equity Fund, and Hockey Canada defended it by saying the money was also used for concussion grants research, criminal background checks for organization staff, donations to Kids Help Phone, insurance premiums — which already make up a large amount of player registration fees — as well as “to cover any claims not otherwise covered by insurance policies, including those related to physical injury, harassment, and sexual misconduct.”

Now, you might be focused on the part where the registration fees of over 600,000 Canadians, from bright-eyed kids to wheezing beer-leaguers, were used to cover up an alleged sexual assault. Some of that is just accounting: it just means Hockey Canada chose this particular pool to draw the money from. It does give every Canadian who paid a player registration fee a connection of their very own to a settlement of a sexual assault case. So there’s that.

But the particulars are less important than how the fund was actually employed. It is standard business practice for any large organization that deals with children to carry insurance that includes coverage for historical sexual assault; it is not common for such organization to carry a slush fund to cover for potentially criminal behaviour. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

And that’s what this fund appears to have been used for. In Parliamentary testimony last month, Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said, “We don’t know exactly what occurred that night or the identities of those involved, (but) we recognize that the conduct was unacceptable and incompatible with Hockey Canada’s values and expectations, and that it clearly caused harm.”

So Hockey Canada didn’t know what happened, or who was involved beyond the fact that they were players, but hastily paid an undisclosed amount to settle the case with money that is earmarked for this kind of crisis? That seems like the definition of a slush fund to cover up bad and even potentially criminal behaviour by actors beneficial to your organization. That’s the heart of this.

Now think of what must have had to happen for that to be anything resembling standard procedure. Hockey Canada needs to be made to throw open the doors — detail every use of this fund, make a public list of settlements that came with nondisclosure agreements, explain all those uninsured liabilities and whatever else happened in the shaded, silent, take-care-of-the-family-business culture that hockey incubates and inculcates. Break the culture of silence that extends to all the corners of the game. It’s too much to do all at once, yes. But start here.

Only then will we find out how this happened, and who is responsible. Hockey in Canada is in crisis. It’s probably overdue.

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