Should Halifax host the World Juniors in wake of Hockey Canada’s scandal? | The Coast Halifax

Should Halifax host the World Juniors in wake of Hockey Canada’s scandal?

The Coast’s readers weigh in

Of all the voices to speak about Halifax hosting the World Juniors at the HRM’s council meeting on Tuesday evening, the one that rang the clearest—and whose words may last the longest—was that of District 14 councillor Lisa Blackburn.

In the wake of a spate of sexual assault and coverup allegations plaguing Hockey Canada and its former junior players—in which past Canadian junior national team members are accused of committing alleged assaults at both the 2018 World Juniors in London, Ont., and the 2003 World Juniors in Halifax, and the sport’s national governing body was found not only to have kept a hush fund to settle claims, but also to have filled that fund with revenue from minor hockey registration fees—Blackburn didn’t hold back in her condemnation of Hockey Canada, nor did she leave Halifax off the hook for the fallout.

“Ultimately, the province of Nova Scotia will decide the fate of this event,” she said of the World Juniors, scheduled to begin Dec. 26 at the Scotiabank Centre. “But we can certainly, as a council, make it known that we [don’t] condone the way that Hockey Canada has performed. And it's certainly going to take more than a few resignations at the board level to fix these systemic problems.”

The issue of what to do with the World Juniors has been a hot-button one for both the HRM and Nova Scotia’s government since early last week, when Hockey Canada’s then-interim board chair Andrea Skinner defended her leadership team amid pointed questions from MPs about the sports body’s multimillion-dollar payouts to sexual assault victims. More than a dozen of Hockey Canada’s highest-profile sponsors and associated sporting bodies—from Nike to Tim Hortons to Hockey Nova Scotia—withdrew their support in the wake of those public hearings.

“Hockey Nova Scotia has lost its confidence in Hockey Canada’s senior leadership,” the provincial sporting organization’s board wrote in a statement on Oct. 6. “Until our values at Hockey Nova Scotia are reflected by Hockey Canada’s senior leadership, we simply cannot support hockey’s national governing body.”

On Tuesday, the fallout continued: At the recommendation of former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell, Hockey Canada’s entire board of directors—Skinner included—resigned. So, too, did CEO Scott Smith.

Which leaves Halifax—one of two host cities designated for the tournament, along with Moncton, NB—facing a series of difficult questions: What role should the region play, if any, in further sanctions against Hockey Canada? Are the board’s resignations evidence of meaningful change within a sport accused not just of misogyny, but of “racism, bullying and homophobia”? And who should atone for the actions of players who don’t represent their peers, nor their successors?

Council issues support for tournament, but with caveats

All of the Halifax Regional Municipality’s councillors who spoke Tuesday said they felt the World Juniors should continue as planned. But the tone of the councillors who spoke varied significantly—and, by and large, was split along gender lines.

While Halifax mayor Mike Savage said “there is no question that there has been a culture around hockey, in a lot of cases, that has not been healthy,” he also stressed council has “had a good relationship with Hockey Canada,” and gushed about how strong early ticket sales have been for the tournament, telling councillors tickets have “virtually sold out” for the Halifax games.

That eased District 2 councillor David Hendsbee’s greatest concerns. His disappointment was reserved for how empty the stands had been during the early rounds of the 2022 World Juniors in Edmonton.

“I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen here,” he said.

Councillors Lisa Blackburn, Pam Lovelace, Becky Kent and Patty Cuttell, meanwhile, came down the hardest on Hockey Canada and stressed the sport’s need for a culture reset.

Blackburn told her fellow councillors that Hockey Canada has “done a disservice” not just to its athletes, but “to all Canadians” for the “generations of men that they have coddled from responsibility.

“They've taught these boys, who are now men, that it's OK to use women any way they want, and they'll be supported. They've taught these boys through their actions—these boys who are now men—that it's OK to cover up that wrongdoing and bury it from scrutiny.”

Kent told council her concerns stem from the possibility that sexual assault allegations involving Hockey Canada and its players could be “very much the tip of the iceberg,” and she sees the potential of a “#MeToo scenario” that could “evolve significantly over the next months and years.

“This very much is another impactful scenario on how women are treated in a male-dominated space… We need our hockey players in this particular level of hockey, but at our national leagues and at our local leagues, to say ‘This is not OK. This needs to change.’”

The Coast readers weigh in

Thursday morning, we asked The Coast Daily’s newsletter readers—it’s free; sign up here—what Halifax should do with the tournament.

Responses varied from effusive support for the World Juniors and its potential bottom-line benefits to outright disgust with the sport and any possibility of the HRM’s involvement.

We present a selection of those responses below. Some entries have been lightly edited for style and grammar.

Halifax should think of the victims

“Should the tournament go ahead? That ship has sailed leaving the feminist lens in dry dock, when both the mayor and the premier decided on how ‘meaningful change’ is defined. No doubt the city will proudly deliver a stellar organized event, but it is the silenced side events that should set off alarm bells. Hopefully the city and Hockey Canada will reveal the revenue generated by this tournament and transfer those funds to sexual assault centres and educational programs in the hockey establishment.” - Kathrin W.

“Halifax should definitely cancel the World Junior Hockey Championships. Hockey worship should not go so far as to reward the blatant sacrifice of women in horrendous acts of violence. I invite Halifax to speak up, and not be a silent bystander.” - Sandy G.

“Thank you for covering the hockey situation and especially the city’s knee jerk acceptance of what is called ‘meaningful change.’ This is an organization that has consistently and over years and years covered up the violence against young women that their players have engaged in—including here in Halifax. Shouldn’t we at least wait to see if there will be a new CEO and board and whether they will make a public commitment to stop paying off the victims of sexual violence at the hands of their young players? Or better yet that they will commit to engage in an obviously sorely needed educational program among them and their coaches who have condoned this in the past?

Moreover, is the city prepared to put in place a program to protect the young women and girls who may be victimized here in Halifax during this tournament? Will the city assume legal liability for the sexual violence that may be perpetrated yet again by these young hockey players here? Will the hotels, who are eager for the revenue, also accept their liability in principle? There is no hockey organization with deep pockets for us to hide behind any longer, I suspect. I am happy to hear that the mayor’s son had a good experience playing hockey but it seems to me that he should also call to mind the many young victims left in the wake of this organization and its tournaments.” - Paul S.

Halifax—and Nova Scotia—need the money

“[Nova Scotia] needs the economic impact it will bring. I agree with the mayor—we wanted to see immediate and significant change, and that's what they [Hockey Canada] did. The businesses that will be benefiting from all the extra spending this will bring can't afford to miss out on this opportunity. Hockey Canada needs systemic change and I think the entire leadership team leaving is a first step in the right direction.” - Emma M.

“World Juniors should definitely be hosted in Halifax as planned. This is a huge influx of revenue for the city hospitality industry and should we withdraw now, I should think, we would find ourselves hard pressed to ever be selected for any such event in the future. We made a commitment to these kids to put on a great event for them and for all those planning to attend and we need to keep our part of the bargain despite the despicable behaviour of Hockey Canada.” - Marg Q.

The current players—and fans—don’t deserve to bear the consequences of their predecessors

“Yes, the World Juniors should definitely go ahead. The economic impact for Halifax and Moncton is greatly needed after the pandemic and the young players involved in this tournament should not be penalized for those who went before them.” - Heather H.

Can Canada reimagine its relationship with the sport?

“Can we loosen the grip of hockey culture on Canadian identity? It can be done. [Pockets of] Spain [have] even cancelled the national sport that was tightly knit into [its] cultural identity. Bullfighting was banned by the autonomous community of Catalonia in 2010. Although the highest court overturned the ban in 2016, bull fighting has de facto ended in Spain. Why? Because cruelty—cruelty to animals was intolerable for the people of Spain. Cruelty—sexual assault, hazing, rape culture, hush money etc. in hockey culture on or off the ice cannot be tolerated by Canadians.” - Kathrin W.