Hockey Canada is facing calls for change, and some in the Ottawa area’s hockey community say those changes should go all the way down to the minor league level.
The controversy arose in May 2022 when the organization settled a multi-million-dollar lawsuit alleging a 2018 group sexual assault involving several of the players who were on Team Canada at the world junior championships.
That settlement sparked widespread discussion about the pervasiveness of misogyny and sexual violence in hockey culture.
CBC reached out to dozens of local hockey leagues to ask what they’re doing to create more positive environments for players in the wake of the controversy. Only one was willing to speak.
Robert Johnson, acting president for the West End Hockey League, said that Hockey Eastern Ontario implemented new rules last year to curb some of the cultural issues in hockey.
The rules include a “fairly comprehensive” abuse, bullying and harassment policy, Johnson said. They also include heavy penalties for players and team officials who use discriminatory slurs, as they now face a minimum five-game suspension and a mandatory discipline and appeals hearing.
“They’re obviously not going to change hockey overnight,” said Johnson. “But they I think they will be changing things over time.”
Hockey parents face tough choices
Many hockey parents were outraged to learn the organization’s National Equity Fund — made up in part by players’ registration fees — was being used to pay out millions of dollars for sexual assault allegations without their knowledge.
For players in Johnson’s league, it works out to about $3 each. He said he worried that could result in parents being reluctant to register their kids in local hockey programs.
“Parents with kids that are two years old, three years old, even unborn children — are they going to see this and say that hockey is … a dirty sport?”
Stacy Metulynsky, a parent of a Rep B player on the Ottawa West Golden Knights, said the controversy offers a chance to educate players and spark grassroots change.
Metulynsky said there’s been an effort to ensure young players were conscious of what occurred and to promote more positive values.
She said she think it’s been valuable for her son.
“It’s actually bringing attention to making sure that isn’t going to happen at this level, and teaching the kids about what’s right and wrong and what you can’t get away with anymore,” she said. “And seeing people having to take responsibility for what’s happened.”
‘Tough discussions’ needed, says expert
Education, awareness and further prevention campaigns will all be crucial in addressing the issues facing hockey culture, said Eric MacIntosh, professor of sport management at the University of Ottawa.
Like Metulynsky, MacIntosh said the changes need to start at the local grassroots level.
“It’s catching them young with the important messages that I think makes a big difference. And we can’t ignore that,” he said.
“And [there needs to be] some tough discussions. Change can’t happen without them.”
Despite the systemic issues, Johnson said he still believes kids can get a lot of good out of playing hockey.
“The kids in our community are benefiting in terms of their social and physical development from the programs we’re offering,” said Johnson. “That’s what keeps us going as volunteers.”