Content Warning: The following article contains references to sexual assault
Former NHL player and abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy says Hockey Canada should publicly disclose the findings of its investigation into allegations that eight Canadian Hockey League players, including members of Canada’s 2017-18 World Junior team, sexually assaulted a woman in a London, Ont., hotel.
Kennedy was speaking in response to TSN’s reporting last week that a settlement had been reached in a lawsuit filed in April by a woman referred to in court documents as “EM” against Hockey Canada, the CHL and eight players who allegedly assaulted her.
The woman alleged that she was abused for hours in a London hotel by the players after a Hockey Canada gala event in June of 2018. The players were not identified in court documents and the allegations were never proven.
Hockey Canada spokeswoman Esther Madziya wrote in a statement to TSN that after becoming aware of the allegations in 2018, the organization contacted London police and hired Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to conduct an independent investigation and make recommendations to Hockey Canada on areas for improvement.
“My question is why does Hockey Canada feel this is not important for the public to know?” Kennedy said in an interview with TSN on Tuesday.
“These players who were allegedly involved, John Does 1 to 8, were at the Hockey Canada awards gala. These are the young men who are the elite of the elite. In today’s world, how is it that not one of those eight players had the courage or the care or the clarity to stand up and say, ‘No. This is not happening.’ Even if some of them did not participate, they were bystanders. Why didn’t anyone say anything? There was this fear to stand up and say, ‘We better not do this, guys.’”
Madziya declined to comment on Kennedy’s call for disclosure.
“Covering it up, burying it, and saying, ‘No comment’ when people ask about this is not the way to handle this,” Kennedy said. “You would think we have learned this by now.”
Kennedy, 52, now heads up Respect Group, an organization dedicated to ending abuse, harassment, bullying and discrimination. The organization formed a partnership with the NHL in December 2021 to train players and team staff on how to prevent abuse and how to respond to such incidents.
Kennedy revealed in 1996 that he had been repeatedly sexually abused by coach Graham James while playing in the Western Hockey League during the 1980s.
His story prompted Hockey Canada to introduce new rules requiring coaches in top junior hockey programs to undergo background checks and to establish a toll-free hotline where players could report sex abuse.
“I remember back when my story broke, the advice organizations received about how to deal with sexual assault and child abuse cases was egregious,” Kennedy said. “They were told, ‘Don’t say anything. It’s going to go away.’ That’s no longer acceptable. Being open and transparent is critical. We need to make sure everyone involved who was hurt is safe and there needs to be accountability.”
Henein Hutchison’s investigation findings and recommendations should be made public, Kennedy said.
“Hockey Canada commissioned a report to find out what happened, and in my world, a report is something meant to educate so you can learn from it moving forward,” he said. “The Chicago Blackhawks were transparent with their report on Kyle Beach, even though they kept his name anonymous at the time. That was a bold and important step and releasing the report was the right move. We have to learn from this stuff. I think the Hockey Canada report on these alleged assaults should be public so all of Canada’s sports organizations, not just hockey ones, can learn from it and understand why these incidents happen.”
Hours after TSN reported on the lawsuit’s settlement, the NHL said in a statement that it would conduct its own investigation of the allegations.
Two people familiar with the matter said that because many players on the 2017-18 Canadian World Juniors team had already signed NHL contracts by June of 2018, an NHL investigation would need to follow the rules of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
According to Section 18-A of the CBA, which outlines how the NHL may investigate and penalize players for allegations of off-ice misconduct, the NHL’s commissioner may expel or suspend a player for a definite or indefinite period and can also cancel a player’s contract with a club.
If the NHL does pursue an investigation, the CBA says the league must notify the NHL Players’ Association immediately. An NHLPA spokesman declined to comment.
There is no formal language in the CBA that requires players to agree to be interviewed by an NHL investigator, or to produce any existing text messages, videos, or other potential evidence.
The CBA also says that the NHL cannot suspend a player without a hearing.