Calling In Hockey Canada For A Collective and Equitable Future

October 27, 2022

Dr. Yvonne James and Dr. Sarah Saska

Hockey Is In Crisis

Recently, it was reported that Hockey Canada—the national body governing ice hockey and sledge—paid out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and sexual abuse claims since 1989. It was later revealed that the money used for the settlements came directly from the organization’s National Equity Fund, a fund intended to cover uninsurable liabilities. It receives player registration fees as a critical revenue source. 

What began as a criticism of Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault involving eight members of the 2018 men’s national junior team has revealed a series of concerning actions. The backlash from the hockey community, the organization, and even the Prime Minister prompted Hockey Canada’s entire board of directors and CEO to resign. Hockey Canada is in crisis, and so is hockey.

Hockey communities know the code of silence that envelops the boys’ and men’s teams. Transgressions are kept quiet; harmful behaviours are left unchecked. Players and “the game” are prioritized and protected above those harmed by their actions. The Hockey Canada scandal is emblematic of the perils of unchecked power afforded to those who draw upon the cultural currency of hockey in this country. Hockey Canada does not exist within a social vacuum, their actions speak for the broader hockey community. 

At the same time, hockey offers a sense of community for many, a gift that is hard to come by in our increasingly digital day-to-day lives. Teams can be a source of safety built through a sense of community. Travelling together, winning and losing together, and sometimes growing into adulthood alongside your teammates forges bonds comparable to what we witness in the military or fraternities. Hockey is a community that will protect its own at any cost. This is true for both the Board room and locker room. 

This Is An Opportunity To Call In, Not Cancel 

Hockey Canada is in the process of coming to terms with the pain it has caused. Over the following months, its actions as an organization will be critical to rebuilding national trust in the game. This is an opportunity to collectively “call in” Hockey Canada and hockey culture, not cancel. 

Taking collective accountability for harm and seeking reconciliation provides a pathway forward for hockey. This means that instead of leaving the organization, we need those leading Hockey Canada to be accountable, not punished. Everyone deserves an opportunity for accountability, including Hockey Canada’s Board of Directors. When we deem some worthy of accountability and others not, we perpetuate the hierarchies that got us here in the first place. Hockey cannot imagine a collective and equitable future without shared responsibility and accountability. 

Calling in individuals that have participated in perpetuating harmful hockey culture is essential, but we must do so with grace and humanity. Hockey Canada must first understand the organization’s wrongdoings and commit to moving forward differently and better. No one has ever been shamed or bullied into doing better; this is no different. 

A Pathway Forward For Hockey Canada 

Hockey Canada has started to move towards understanding and accountability. The organization’s action plan is a good start, but the road ahead is long. Rebuilding Canadians’ trust in our national sport will require years of coordinated, strategic, and meaningful change. This is more than a box-checking exercise. There are clear and tangible actions that Hockey Canada, hockey communities, and sponsors can take to rebuild a new era of hockey collectively. 

Take Ownership and Accountability

  • Design an effective process of accountability that requires ownership, dialogue, behaviour change, intentional action, and reparations for harm caused.
  • Establish equitable leadership responsibilities and accountability to ensure the effort required to address the problems within hockey culture is fairly distributed across the organization. This means sharing the heavy load of change equitably across Hockey Canada and its communities.

Work Collaboratively

 

  • Do not leave women to clean up the mess independently. While seeking women’s support when confronted with organizational-wide gender-equity issues can be tempting, this is not always a viable or appropriate path to change. When we ask women to “fix” something like sexism or misogyny, we ask them to clean up a mess that was not their doing. While this happened partly due to a lack of representation in leadership, it does not fall solely on women to make a change within Hockey Canada.
  • Sponsors can support the reconstruction of Hockey Canada instead of pulling funding, which ultimately impacts athletes.
  • Collaborate with community organizations such as children's sports clubs, hockey families, high schools, and more to ensure that Hockey Canada supports the education and practice of respectful and inclusive Hockey for everyone in Canada.
  • Seek leadership and advisory from the players, especially national women’s teams, and position athletes in change-making positions within the organization as stewards for inclusive and safe hockey. 

 

Seek Experts and Design Intentional Systems

  • Seek and collaborate with experts in the field of sexual harassment and violence who can consult and educate the organization on what actions must be taken.
  • Establish an anti-discrimination committee that ensures all instances of sexual harassment are treated equitably, start from a place of belief and protection, and go through a thorough end-to-end process for resolution.
  • Design procedures for reporting and handling complaints that use an independent third-party process, similar to the process proposed in Hockey Canada’s action plan but in far more detail to allow for complete accessibility. Provide details of where parties involved in a complaint can seek advice and support. It is not enough to feed a complaint through the system, parties that make complaints should be supported at every opportunity.
  • Emphasize safe and inclusive hockey for all by conducting a diversity, equity, and inclusion review of all teams and member associations, including the women’s and girls’ teams. Rebuilding a new era of hockey also means reimagining how our women’s and girls’ teams are participating and practicing inclusive hockey values.

Conclusion

Whether the hockey community is ready or not, a new era of hockey is on the horizon. This is an opportunity to imagine what a safer, braver, and more inclusive hockey world can be like in our communities. Now is the time for everyone—from the newest players and families to coaches and national team athletes—to weave practices of care and accountability into the fabric of hockey. Hockey Canada is positioned to lead in crafting the next generation of hockey, but they will need patience, grace, and support.