Hockey Canada is deep in the midst of sexual scandals. The details that have been coming out for weeks are increasingly sordid. On July 22, a new allegation of group sexual assault involving the 2003 national junior team was made public. This is in addition to a similar story involving the 2018 team that was covered up by Hockey Canada. These cases show that sexual violence runs deep in the culture surrounding hockey—and more than that, as in any other business, profits, reputations, and protecting the superstars who bring in the money come before fighting abuse. Capitalism and sexual violence go hand in hand.
Last May, it was revealed that Hockey Canada had quietly settled a case of a group sexual assault involving eight players from the 2017-2018 national junior team. The assault occurred at a Hockey Canada Foundation Gala in June 2018. One player allegedly had sex with the victim and then invited seven of his teammates to assault the young woman. They then allegedly videotaped her and prompted her to say she was sober, then asked her not to go to the police. The victim was seeking $3.55 million in damages; just one month after the complaint was filed, on April 20 of this year, the matter was settled privately by Hockey Canada.
Since these initial revelations, Hockey Canada officials have appeared before the House of Commons Heritage Committee, making fools of themselves in the process. It appears that an investigation was commissioned from a law firm at the time in 2018, but that no player was forced to testify! Not surprisingly, the investigation led nowhere. But four years later, now that the eight players were going to be sued by the victim, Hockey Canada was quick to pull out its checkbook to ensure that the matter was kept quiet and covered up. The contrast between the speed and resources devoted to protecting young superstars from the consequences of their actions and the lack of seriousness given to the investigation of the facts themselves is striking.
Even more disgusting are the allegations against half a dozen players from the 2003 national junior team. They allegedly assaulted a barely conscious woman and filmed it. At the beginning of the video, a player answers questions, as if it was a pre-game interview, then says that people are about to see “a fucking lamb roast”. Then the assault appears on the horrific video, the content of which has been described by three sources independently of each other. A police investigation is now underway.
As if these revelations of the past few weeks were not enough, it was revealed that Hockey Canada has a “national equity fund” to cover uninsured liabilities, including “potential claims for past sexual abuse”. In total, this fund was used for nine sex abuse claims since 1989, for a total of $7.6 million (in addition to $1.3 million in insured settlements for 12 more cases). This organization is so well aware of the rape culture surrounding hockey that it has money to help it silently deal with the sexual misconduct cases that arise along the way.
A culture of abuse and silence
Anyone who has ever put on skates or been anywhere near the hockey universe is well aware of the terrible culture that prevails in this environment. The latent homophobia, the sexual abuse, the bullying, the superstars who can do whatever they want—all of this is well known. The events of the past few weeks have brought this culture into the spotlight for all to see. Unfortunately, the horrific stories of the past few weeks are far from isolated. The culture of silence is widespread.
In the summer of 2020, there was a wave of denounciations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the world of Canadian junior hockey. Former player Dan Carcillo launched a class action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), which was followed by the creation of a three-person “independent review committee” by the CHL to inquire about the harassment and abuse in junior hockey. This committee interviewed hundreds of people involved in junior hockey and made recommendations to the CHL about the deep culture of harassment and bullying in the league. Their report was quietly shelved and the three committee members were even prevented by the CHL from speaking to the media about it!
Then last fall, the Brad Aldrich affair made headlines. This video coach for the Chicago Blackhawks sexually assaulted former player Kyle Beach in May 2010. The team’s management were quick to sweep the affair under the rug for weeks so as not to interfere with the team’s playoff run—the playoffs are extremely profitable for the teams involved. Then, once the Stanley Cup had been won, Aldrich was quietly fired. Because the matter was swept under the rug, he went on to claim more victims, one of them underage, in another job.
A fellow Hawks player at the time claimed in the summer of 2021 that on the team “everyone knew” what had happened. Players were even making homophobic jokes about it in the locker room. And yet, silence prevailed.
How often do we hear the words, “everyone knew”? These very same words have been heard in recent days, since Quebec stand-up comedian Philippe Bond was denounced by eight women for harassment and assault.
Since the allegations and facts about Hockey Canada surfaced, crocodile tears have been flowing. The Trudeau government and the opposition parties are calling for the heads of the leaders of the federation. But the rot runs deeper: Sport Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage’s umbrella organization for the hockey federation, knew about the 2018 allegations at the time, but didn’t see fit to report them to the minister or make a big deal about them. Whether there are scapegoats or not, we are dealing with a widespread culture of trivialization and silence—not limited to the world of hockey, of course—that a few personnel changes will not alter in the least.
And it’s only when actual cases are made public that those responsible will bend over backwards to feel sorry for the victims—after doing everything they can to minimize the cases or impose silence about them. Hockey Canada has now unveiled an “action plan” to combat the toxic culture surrounding hockey. We can have no confidence whatsoever in these managers who have done nothing but try to cover up the cases that are reported to them.
In the world of entertainment, sports, and arts, anything that might disrupt the money flow is swept under the rug. The reputation of this or that celebrity, the job requirements of this or that accused person (like Simon Houle and Gilbert Rozon), and the smooth running of business takes precedence over the well-being of the victims and the fight against violence.
Sexual violence and the culture of silence that surrounds it are an integral part of the capitalist system. A system in which the power, profits, and prestige of a wealthy minority come first cannot seriously address sexual violence. There will be no real justice for the many victims of abuse as long as we live under this system. We need a socialist society where power rests in the hands of the working class, and where we can collectively address all forms of prejudice and violence, without any reservations or brakes related to profits and the interests of a minority.