A third party investigator hired by Hockey Canada to look into an alleged group sexual assault said players who don’t participate in her investigation will be banned from Hockey Canada for life — and that many players she hasn’t interviewed are worried that Hockey Canada and some politicians have pre-judged them guilty.
Danielle Robitaille, a partner at law firm Henein Hutchison LLP, told the House of Commons standing committee on Canadian Heritage that Hockey Canada has advised her that players who don’t take part in her reopened investigation will be banned from Hockey Canada and will be named publicly.
In May 2022, Hockey Canada settled a $3.55-million lawsuit filed in April by a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by eight former Canadian Hockey League (CHL) players following a Hockey Canada Foundation event in London, Ont. in June, 2018.
The allegations have not been proven in court. The identities of the players allegedly involved and the alleged victim are not publicly known.
In her testimony, Robitaille said Hockey Canada contacted her firm shortly after the alleged assault and gave her a mandate to learn the truth of what happened and make policy recommendations to Hockey Canada.
But the third party investigation was unable to interview all of the 2018 world junior hockey team players who were at the event in the subsequent months, so it presented a preliminary report and recommendations to Hockey Canada in September, 2018. The investigation eventually closed with an agreement between Henein Hutchison and Hockey Canada that it could be reopened at any time.
In the meantime, the case has prompted unprecedented scrutiny of hockey culture and Hockey Canada as an organization. Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have criticized Hockey Canada since the case became public in May.
In her testimony, Robitaille acknowledged the public anger the case has ignited.
“I appreciate that it’s very frustrating to Canadians that we don’t have an outcome yet,” Robitaille told the committee.
“My investigation is taking time, but justice and fairness sometimes take time.”
Robitaille provided several new details about the investigation to MPs at the committee. While Hockey Canada executives previously told the committee that most players at the London event did not participate in the initial investigation, Robitaille said 10 out of 19 gave interviews.
She said the nine who chose not to participate advised her through their lawyer that they would not participate until the London Police Service concluded its criminal investigation of the incident, which started in July of 2018. The London police closed their investigation without charges in February 2019.
Robitaille said she still could not interview the players after that point because the alleged victim said through her lawyer that she would not provide a statement recalling her version of what happened in June 2018 to the investigation.
Robitaille said that without that statement, she was “not prepared” to arrange interviews with the players and the investigation went dormant.
“I was not prepared to interview those players absent the complainant’s version of events,” Robitaille told the committee.
“As a matter of due process, I could not interview players without giving them fair notice of what was alleged against them.”
Robitaille said that, earlier this month, she received notice that the complainant would provide a statement. Investigators now have the statement and the investigation is active again.
Hockey Canada executives have told the committee that while players were encouraged to participate in the initial stage of the third party investigation, they were not required to do so.
But Robitaille said the organization has now told her that players who don’t participate will be banned from Hockey Canada and that the ban would be made public.
Robitaille stressed that the investigation is ongoing.
Players concerned politicians, Hockey Canada ‘pre-judged’ them
Robitaille added that legal counsel for eight of the nine players with whom she hasn’t spoken told her the players are concerned that some politicians and Hockey Canada officials already have decided they’re guilty.
“They have expressed concerns about my investigation, particularly as it relates to comments made by politicians and members of Hockey Canada. They have a concern that the issue has been pre-judged,” she said.
“I am attempting to address those concerns and assuage those concerns, and I hope that I will receive voluntary compliance with my investigation.”
London police announced last week that they will reopen their investigation into the alleged assault.
Hockey Canada said last week it would no longer use a fund maintained by membership fees to settle sexual assault claims.
The organization announced Monday that it will commit to a number of other changes, including enhanced training focused on masculinity, consent and toxic behaviours and a universal code of conduct to prevent and address maltreatment in the sport.
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