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Sponsors put Hockey Canada on ice in wake of sexual assault lawsuit

Current and former Hockey Canada executives have faced questions about the organization's handling of sexual assault allegations and a subsequent out-of-court settlement. (Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Corporations with ties to Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing body, paused their sponsorships of the organization following its handling of sexual assault allegations against members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team.

Fast-food chain Tim Hortons announced Wednesday that it was suspending its support for this summer’s world junior championships in Edmonton as it awaited details on how Hockey Canada intends to take “strong and definitive action” on the matter.

“Hockey Canada has communicated that it is committed to changing the culture of hockey to make it safer and more inclusive for all, on and off the ice. We have expressed strongly that we believe Canadians are urgently seeking concrete details from Hockey Canada about how it intends to do so,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We will re-evaluate our sponsorship agreement once we have all the information we need to consider our options.”

The fallout stems from a 2018 incident in which a woman, now 24, alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players after a Hockey Canada Foundation golf event in Ontario that June. That led to a criminal investigation by police that was closed in 2019, Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith told lawmakers last month. A separate investigation was conducted by a law firm hired by Hockey Canada and ended in 2020, although former CEO Tom Renney said that report is incomplete and should not be released.

Hockey Canada has said the woman chose not to speak with police or the organization’s investigators and that she did not identify the players. The allegations have not been proved in court.

The woman sought $3.55 million in damages in a lawsuit filed in April, alleging she was assaulted by unidentified players. The following month, Hockey Canada settled for an undisclosed amount.

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Earlier this month, Canadian Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge ordered an audit of the out-of-court settlement to ensure taxpayer money wasn’t used. (Renney said no government funds were used.) Smith and Renney were questioned by lawmakers on June 20 about the organization’s response to those allegations. Two days later, St-Onge said the government would freeze Hockey Canada’s federal funding, which accounts for 6 percent of its total funding, according to the Associated Press.

The NHL is conducting its own investigation “to determine the underlying facts and, to the extent this may involve players who are now in the NHL, we will determine what action, if any, would be appropriate.”

Scotiabank chief executive Brian J. Porter said in an open letter that the bank “made the decision to pause our sponsorship of Hockey Canada until we are confident the right steps are being taken to improve the culture within the sport — both on and off the ice.”

Telus, a wireless service provider, said it will continue to support women’s events despite its decision to pause its activities with Hockey Canada.

“We are appalled by the recent reports of assault involving members of the 2018 World Junior Championship team,” it said in a statement. “While we will continue to support upcoming women’s events and grassroots initiatives dedicated to supporting youth in hockey, TELUS is pausing its sponsorship activation with Hockey Canada and the upcoming World Juniors tournament. We will redirect those funds to Canadian organizations that support women affected by sexual violence.”