Disclaimer: this article contains content that could be upsetting to some audiences, such as assault, bullying, and abuse.
I have played hockey from the age of four, and my family regularly watches the sport. In short, hockey has become a big part of my life. So naturally, when my mom convinced me to watch a documentary that aired on The Fifth Estate (CBC) in October, 2022 about the Hockey Canada scandal and the sexual assaults within our national sport, I was extremely upset. I was furious, shocked, and so ashamed that this had been going on for years. It took so long for this situation to become public. Hockey Canada has deeply disappointed me and countless female hockey players.
The reason this may not be talked about is due to the excuse that it's a part of hockey culture. Because of the way coaches treat their players and teammates treat each other, a toxic environment has formed around the sport. It doesn't start with sexual assault; it starts with hazing and blatant bullying on the ice and in the change rooms of high schools, colleges and universities. It's not uncommon for a player to have experienced hazing or bullying and not even realize it, but there is a culture of silence which makes boys and men afraid of not fitting in if they say something.
In 1992, a journalist named Laura Robinson started an investigation into an alleged gang sexual assault in Swift Current Saskatchewan. The charges were postponed against the two junior hockey players and they were traded to play for other provinces. The girl, who was the victim, was charged with public mischief and the charges against the alleged rapists were dropped. Robinson wrote that the girl's story was constantly changing and that she was clearly intimidated by the male-dominated police force and legal system. Other girls, some as young as 12 and 13, who were also gang-raped but didn’t come forward, afraid of the critism and hate that would follow. Robinson’s case continued to grow as she uncovered many similar cases across Canada surrounding our beloved sport. In 1996, Graham James—a coach Robinson had interviewed in 1993—had been charged with 350 counts of sexual assault after two players went to the police. According to Laura Robinson, Hockey Canada knew about sexual abuse within its ranks as far as 25 years ago.
To the shock of most Canadians, Hockey Canada used minor hockey league fees to pay off victims of sexual assault. They have used $8.9 million to do so since 1989. Many women had begun to initiate legal action but were offered money to keep quiet. How many women have chosen this path instead of the shame associated with telling their story? How many have been silenced by Hockey Canada? Do parents know the money they spent on fees helped to pay off women?, And why have we only learned about this recently? A significant fallout of the release of this story is that Hockey Canada lost most of its biggest sponsors after board members and the CEO did not resign immediately. In fact the CEO and president of this organization took almost three months to step down.
Although this Hockey Canada scandal shocked all of us, there is a positive outcome. Parents, players and coaches are far more aware of sexual violence and toxic masculinity in locker rooms, on the ice, and after games. I hope after reading or listening to this essay, you have learned more about these misogynistic behaviors and how they start. If you or someone you know has experienced anything similar, I encourage you to reach out and talk about it. This mutual disappointment and rage might be shared, regardless of gender or identity. I can guarantee that others will stand with you and you may just help someone else share their story as well.