The Hamilton Spectator

A reckoning long overdue


NHL star Cale Makar likely spoke for multitudes of Canadians when he said recently of the 2018 sexual assault scandal involving former teammates that “actions have consequenc­es, that’s what I was taught growing up.”

For too long, it seemed as if consequenc­es might not arrive for five past and present NHLers who have now been charged with sexual assault in a case that exposed a toxic sports culture, an ethical vacuum within Hockey Canada and a lethargic institutio­nal response.

On Monday, in a London, Ont., courtroom, years of speculatio­n finally over, the reckoning for those members of Canada’s 2018 world championsh­ip junior team formally began.

Cal Foote and Michael McLeod of the New Jersey Devils, Dillon Dubé of the Calgary Flames, Carter Hart of the Philadelph­ia Flyers and Alex Formenton, a former Ottawa Senator who had been playing in Europe, will defend themselves against the charges and plead not guilty, their lawyers said.

The group sexual assault is alleged to have occurred in June 2018 in a London hotel after a Hockey Canada fundraisin­g gala at which the players were honoured.

According to a police applicatio­n for a search warrant filed in 2022, one player is alleged to have brought a woman — identified only as E.M. — back to his hotel room after an evening in which she had been drinking heavily. The pair allegedly had consensual sex. E.M. would later tell investigat­ors that what happened after that was not consensual.

The player texted teammates, she said, according to the court document obtained by The Canadian Press. Sexual acts followed. The woman said she tried to leave several times, but was stopped from doing so. Two videos were shot asking if she was “OK with this” with a male voice telling her to say everything was consensual. She did, but later told police she felt she had no choice. After E.M. told her parents what had happened, they reported the incident to police and Hockey Canada.

But the complaints drew a troubling lack of rigour by local police — who closed their first investigat­ion in 2019 — and triggered coverup efforts by Hockey Canada.

E.M. sued Hockey Canada for $3.5 million in 2022 and public outrage exploded after media reports revealed the organizati­on had settled her claim from a fund drawn from the registrati­on fees of families across the country and used repeatedly to make such problems go away. Corporate sponsorshi­ps were cancelled, parliament­ary hearings were held, Hockey Canada’s executive was ousted and London police reopened their investigat­ion.

On Monday, London police Chief Thai Truong apologized to E.M. and her family, saying “this should not have taken so long.” Indeed, it’s not clear why charges were not laid after the original investigat­ion. Institutio­nal pressure? A callous disregard by investigat­ors to E.M.’s report of what transpired? Det.-Sgt. Katherine Dann of the force’s sexual assault section said it takes “an incredible amount of courage” to report such offences and participat­e in police investigat­ions and E.M. has done so over almost six years.

Tough questions must be asked about that initial investigat­ion and the police decision to close the case. Truong said he’ll provide answers but suggested that would have to wait until the ongoing criminal proceeding­s are done.

In a country that too often defines itself through hockey, the alleged assault and pathetic response elicited sorrow and anger.

The charges finally laid promise to renew scrutiny on the uglier side of sport culture, the trauma inflicted on too many and the impunity often granted to transgress­ors.

In recent weeks, the mythmaking machinery of sport has been at work, with news about the return of NHL players to Olympic and internatio­nal play, the league’s all-star festivitie­s in Toronto, and Sportsnet’s annual Hockey Day in Canada broadcast romanticiz­ing the small-town virtues of hockey.

None of which should distract societal attention from the trial in London, the consequenc­es for individual­s and institutio­ns that lacked a moral compass and the ongoing need for reform.

“I have repeatedly used the words abhorrent, reprehensi­ble, horrific and unacceptab­le to describe the alleged behaviour,” NHL commission­er Gary Bettman said at the all-star weekend.

We are at last on the road to learning whether “criminal” will be added to that list, and whether the alleged perpetrato­rs pay for it.

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