Sylvain Perrier was sitting down to lunch with his wife and daughter when he saw the breaking news that Hockey Canada was embroiled in another group sexual assault investigation, this time involving the 2003 world junior team.
Turning to his wife, he began telling her in French about the allegations when his daughter interjected, asking what they were talking about.
“For a second my brain froze and I was like, ‘Oh, man, she’s only 11,’” said Perrier. “I tried to explain it but there’s no good way to explain it, right? Except being kind of forward with it. There’s no way to sugar-coat it.”
Perrier and his family had stopped at a restaurant as they drove from their home in Gatineau, Que., to Sudbury, Ont., for a hockey tournament his daughter was playing in. Because his daughter is familiar with the Hockey Canada brand, she was able to pick up that her parents were speaking about the sport that she loves.
“So I said ‘these guys, they did bad things to this girl. And the person that was supposed to help this girl, well, they just gave her money and told her to be quiet,’” Perrier said. “That’s kind of how I explained it. I mean, I don’t know if I did a good job. But I don’t know the best way to explain a situation like that.”
Hockey Canada had its funding from the federal government and corporate sponsors paused following allegations of a sexual assault involving eight members of the 2018 men’s junior hockey team.
Those allegations came to light after it was reported that Hockey Canada paid out an undisclosed settlement to the complainant after she sued the organization, the Canadian Hockey League, and the eight unnamed players. The woman was seeking $3.55 million.
Hockey Canada later confirmed that it maintained a fund that drew on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual misconduct claims. the organization has since said the fund would no longer be used to pay out claims over sexual assault allegations.
Hockey Canada announced on July 22 that another sexual assault investigation was being launched involving members of the 2003 junior team.
Erin Dixon, who has a 14-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, said she was angry to learn that her children’s registration fees had in part gone to a fund that was used to pay off sexual misconduct claims.
“I just don’t think that’s where kids’ athletic fee should be going and, of course, that behaviour should not be tolerated or supported in any way,” said Dixon from Kingston, Ont. “It’s a bit of a hit and not surprising to hear about the second situation (2003 allegations) coming out now.
“With the amount of money they’ve got set aside I’m going to expect we’ll hear more, there’ll be more of this.”
Perrier said that he felt “disgusted” that his daughter’s registration fees had gone to the fund.
“It’s hard to wrap my mind around it,” said Perrier as his daughter was on the ice at her tournament. “How can this happen? How can Hockey Canada, which is supposed to be almost a church for every girl and boy that plays hockey, then go and protect rapists and abusers? With our money?”
Dixon said she was “appalled” that some of her fees had gone to pay for sexual assault claims when there were more pressing, morally sound issues the money could have supported.
“To think that there are kids who can’t even afford to play, and part of the fees are going to this instead, it’s just wrong on so, so many levels,” said Dixon, who played competitive hockey into adulthood. “There are just so many things that are being affected here. Women’s hockey is an important one to me.
“The amount of money that’s gone into this fund could have done a lot for women’s hockey.”
The ongoing controversies whirling around Hockey Canada and its use of registration fees are forcing parents to make difficult decisions, balancing their children’s desire to play hockey against ethical considerations.
Courtney Adams, from Sudbury, had planned to enrol her four-year-old son in hockey for the first time this fall but the sexual assault allegations have made her think twice. She said that how Hockey Canada handles the next few weeks will dictate how her family proceeds.
“If there’s no real changes in terms of the leadership group at Hockey Canada and an actual drive to change, not just the words, but the actions, there’s a chance that come September we might not be enrolling him in hockey,” said Adams, adding that it’s not just about where her money would go, but about making wise decisions as a parent.
“We also don’t like the idea of him being in a culture that allows this to happen. Yes, he’s young now, but if hockey is something that he enjoys, and he wants to stay in as he gets older, into his teen years, this is not the culture that we would want him involved in.”
All three parents said that hockey culture is in a crisis and cited several other controversies as examples.
Perrier noted that in his neighbourhood a local under-15 hockey team had to suspend six of its players and Hockey Quebec had cancel the triple-A team’s final two games of the season after allegations of racism.
Dixon, a diehard Habs fan, said she was incredibly disappointed when the Montreal Canadiens drafted defenceman Logan Mailloux after he was convicted of sexual misconduct in 2020. Mailloux had renounced his draft eligibility so he could focus on reconciliation and personal growth but was selected by Montreal in the first round anyway.
Adams said that she was also concerned with the sexual assault trial of Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen, who was also a member of Canada’s 2016 junior team. Virtanen was found not guilty by a jury on Tuesday after Adams spoke with The Canadian Press.
– John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press