Canada: Hockey Canada has paid $7.6M in sex abuse settlements since 1989

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OTTAWA — Hockey Canada says it has paid out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and sexual abuse claims since 1989, with $6.8 million of that related to serial abuser Graham James.

  Hockey Canada has paid $7.6M in sex abuse settlements since 1989 © Provided by The Canadian Press

The figure does not include the undisclosed amount of a settlement with a woman who sued the organization this spring.

The hockey governing body has been under fire since it was revealed the money in its multimillion-dollar National Equity Fund — which had been reserved for uninsured payments — comes from player fees.

Another 12 insured claims have cost Hockey Canada $1.3 million, and the organization's chief financial officer, Brian Cairo, said $1 million of that is related to four complaints about the same alleged perpetrator, although he did not provide details.

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Insurance companies were not willing to insure the organization for payouts related to the James case after it became public, which is why the organization needed to set aside a fund for uninsured payments, Cairo told the House of Commons heritage committee Wednesday.

"This money was used to support the victims, not the perpetrator."

The fund was also used to pay for the services of a law firm that has been investigating the alleged sexual assault in 2018 that has Hockey Canada officials before the committee of MPs this week.

In May, news broke that members of the 2018 world junior team were accused of a group sexual assault after a Hockey Canada gala event in London, Ont.

The heritage committee is now probing how the governing body dealt with the allegations and the lawsuit.

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Several witnesses including Cairo, Hockey Canada president Scott Smith, and Glen McCurdie, the organization's former vice-president of insurance and risk management, were before the committee Wednesday. At the request of Conservative MP John Nater, witnesses were sworn in and testified under oath.

McCurdie told the committee that when he learned of the allegations on June 19, 2018, he was golfing with Hockey Canada's insurance brokers and told them informally about the situation hours before he made a report to London police.

He said that he made a formal insurance report the next day, and that he had several phone calls with other Hockey Canada officials on June 19 about the allegations.

Police investigated and did not lay charges, but the woman at the centre of the allegations sued Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and eight unnamed players for just over $3.5 million this spring.

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Hockey Canada settled the case for "the maximum amount," Smith said. The sum is not included in the $7.6 million figure as it has yet to be fully tabulated.

Smith told the committee the organization chose to use the National Equity Fund because an insurance claim could take months or years, and that Hockey Canada could still put the claim through insurance after the fact.

Cairo said Hockey Canada did not offer to pay the complainant from its equity fund before the lawsuit, as it didn't know the details of the allegations and it wanted to respect her privacy.

Dan McKenzie, president of the Canadian Hockey League, said his organization was not involved in the settlement discussions — although it was named in the lawsuit and signed off on the settlement. He also said the CHL sought advice after the settlement because it did not think it should have been a party to the claim.

McKenzie told the committee that the 22 players on the 2018 world junior hockey team were "under the jurisdiction of Hockey Canada" at the time of the gala, as the CHL season had ended. He said they had all signed professional contracts and that only two of them returned to the CHL the next season.

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Smith was pressed by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather about why the case was settled so quickly and whether Hockey Canada properly informed the eight players who were also defendants. He said it was "highly unusual" to settle within weeks, but Smith said that was done in the best interests of the complainant.

Hockey Canada has reopened its independent investigation into the case. The law firm handling it says it has interviewed the complainant and plans to speak with nine players who were at the event and were not interviewed in the initial investigation in 2018.

Cairo said Henein Hutchinson LLP has been paid $287,000 for its investigation so far.

London police have reopened their investigation.

Meanwhile, Sheldon Kennedy, an advocate for sexual abuse survivors and one of James’s victims, has called on Hockey Canada’s leadership to resign as a result of their handling of the allegations.

Several MPs asked Smith if he would step down.

Smith said a governance review is underway and if it determines he is not the best person for the job, he will accept that, but said he wants an opportunity to make change.

"I believe that I'm the right person to lead Hockey Canada to a new place."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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