Police in Halifax have opened an investigation into an alleged sexual assault from nearly two decades ago involving members of Hockey Canada’s 2003 national junior team, while authorities in London, Ont., are reopening a separate probe related to 2018 allegations involving national team players who won gold at the World Juniors earlier that year.
Halifax police confirmed to The Athletic on Friday they were looking into a “historical sexual assault that is alleged to have occurred in Halifax in 2003” after receiving a report Thursday night.
“We take all matters of this nature very seriously and will be conducting a thorough investigation,” Const. John MacLeod said in an email.
Earlier Friday, Hockey Canada had urged the Halifax authorities to investigate an alleged group sexual assault involving members of the 2002-03 national junior team after learning “deeply disturbing” details of the alleged incident from TSN reporter Rick Westhead.
In a statement released Friday, Hockey Canada said Westhead informed the organization that he spoke to multiple witnesses who provided him with descriptions of the alleged assault, including Member of Parliament John Nater, who “is in possession of the same or similar information.”
Nater is the vice chair of the parliamentary committee currently investigating Hockey Canada’s response to an alleged sexual assault involving junior team players in 2018. Police in London, Ont., said Friday they would be reopening that investigation.
Hockey Canada said it contacted Halifax Regional Police after receiving an email from Westhead containing details of the alleged assault. Halifax co-hosted the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championship, where Canada lost to Russia in the gold-medal game.
Hockey Canada also said it shared Westhead’s information with Sport Canada and urged him and Nater to speak with police.
“Hockey Canada is committed to bringing an end to the culture of silence in hockey,” the statement said. “That is why we are publicly calling for anyone with knowledge of this incident to come forward to police, and we are being transparent in how we learned of this alleged assault and the steps we are taking to address it.”
Two weeks ago, Hockey Canada heard a rumor about “something bad at the 2003 World Juniors” but received no details on the incident, the organization said. Hockey Canada said it reported this information to Sport Canada and hired a third-party investigator to learn more information. The investigator was unable to find any information on the alleged assault before the governing body received Westhead’s email, according to the statement.
Hockey Canada’s statement comes amid a tumultuous time for the organization, which was named in a lawsuit that alleged eight players, including some members of Canada’s World Junior team, sexually assaulted a young woman in 2018. The alleged assault occurred in a London, Ont., hotel room in June 2018 following a Hockey Canada Foundation event.
The lawsuit, which was resolved via a settlement agreement between Hockey Canada and the woman who made the allegations, was filed in April and became public in May.
Since then, Hockey Canada has been under intense criticism with sponsors including Tim Hortons, Scotiabank, Canadian Tire and Telus saying they will withdraw sponsorship and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the organization’s handling of the allegations “unacceptable.” In the wake of the scandal, a committee of Canadian Parliament members is investigating Hockey Canada.
Additionally, The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Hockey Canada uses a multimillion-dollar fund, paid for by registration fees from youth players, to pay out alleged sexual assault cases. Hockey Canada has since announced it will no longer use the fund to settle sexual assault cases.
On Wednesday, London’s police chief said the department would conduct an internal probe to see if there were “additional investigative avenues” into the 2018 sexual assault allegations. Chief Steve Williams added that a sexual assault investigation began in June 2018, and eight months later, it was concluded with no criminal charges laid.
After conducting the preliminary review, Williams announced in a statement Friday that London police determined there are “further investigative opportunities available” and it has reopened the criminal investigation into the allegations. Williams also said police would welcome a review of the investigation by London’s Violence Against Women Community Advocacy Group when it concludes.
(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)