Here's why the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship isn't a sure thing, yet | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
“Is the problem solved? Is everything sunshine, roses and lollipops? Absolutely not."

Here's why the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship isn't a sure thing, yet

The tournament is slated for Halifax and Moncton in less than a month, but an agreement with scandal-plagued Hockey Canada still need to be finalized.

On December 26, the first puck drops in the 2023 International Ice Hockey Federation men’s World Junior Championship, co-hosted by Halifax and Moncton, New Brunswick. Less than four weeks from now, the Maritimes will welcome fans and players from around the world, and millions of Canadians across the country will engage in the storied holiday tradition of watching the tournament, which runs from Boxing Day to January 5, 2023. That is, if everything goes to plan.

It’s been a rocky road for the provincial and municipal governments of the two host cities in the leadup to the tournament, as they grapple with hockey’s scandal-plagued national governing body, Hockey Canada. Not to mention, Halifax and Moncton were only named hosts of the World Juniors in May, after Russia was stripped of the privilege in February over its invasion of Ukraine.

If you need a refresher, Hockey Canada first came under fire in May—only two weeks after Halifax and Moncton became hosts—when it was discovered that the organization tried to cover up an alleged group sexual assault by members of Canada’s World Junior team in London, ON in 2018. Then came the revelation in July that Hockey Canada had a hush fund used to settle sexual assault claims, and it was using minor hockey registration fees to pay for it. Also in July, Halifax Regional Police began investigating a 2003 group sexual assault involving Canadian World Junior players in Halifax the last time the tournament was held in the city. All the while, Hockey Canada continued to defend its leadership.

In the wake of the scandal, over a dozen Hockey Canada sponsors withdrew support. Hockey Nova Scotia also stopped transferring money to the national body. Up until last month, the question was still in the air as to whether Halifax would host the World Juniors at all. Both premier Tim Houston and mayor Mike Savage, on October 6 and 7 respectively, said that they needed to see “meaningful changes” within Hockey Canada before the tournament goes forward.

Have those meaningful changes happened? On October 11, Hockey Canada’s CEO and board of directors resigned, an event that was praised by both Houston and Savage as a step in the right direction. The same day, Halifax Regional Council confirmed its support of the tournament going forward. Councillors agreed the problems are with Hockey Canada, not the IIHF or the current cohort of young players; the mass resignation signaled a positive turn for the governing body and early ticket sales were strong.

Savage is still optimistic about the World Juniors going ahead. “I appreciated changes made at the top of Hockey Canada with the resignation of the CEO and the board of directors in response to calls for accountability. This is an indication that Hockey Canada is serious about working to regain public trust,” the mayor tells The Coast in an email Monday.

In that October 11 council meeting, District 14 councillor Lisa Blackburn voiced perhaps the harshest condemnation of Hockey Canada of the bunch. “I feel a little bit better compared to when I spoke out about this strongly at council,” Blackburn says on the phone with The Coast Tuesday. “I certainly see Hockey Canada moving the needle on some much-needed change—really it’s more than change, it's an overhaul that's required—but, you know, it appears just by the work that they have done that they are willing to dig in and do that work.”

Blackburn cites the resignation of the CEO and board, as well as the police investigation into the 2003 assault in Halifax, as good progress toward accountability. “Is the problem solved? Is everything sunshine, roses and lollipops? Absolutely not. But I think I've seen enough movement that I'm encouraged and certainly a lot more comfortable with this event coming to Halifax this December.”

But there are still some missing pieces. A “contribution agreement” to host the tournament between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Hockey Canada—wherein Nova Scotia will give $2 million in funding to Hockey Canada, and New Brunswick will contribute $1.25 million—still hasn’t been signed. Again, for a tournament that’s less than a month away.

That contribution agreement comes with conditions. The two provinces are requiring Hockey Canada to hold sexual assault and harassment prevention training for all players and staff before the tournament begins, and to sign on to an anti-harassment policy. “The anti-harassment policy is part of the contribution agreement, which is currently with Hockey Canada for review. We expect to hear back from Hockey Canada in the coming days,” a spokesperson for the province says in an email to The Coast on Tuesday.

For Hockey Canada’s part, it announced in July that it would implement “enhanced mandatory training on sexual violence and consent” for all players, coaches and staff, led by the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, a spokesperson for Hockey Canada tells The Coast in an email Tuesday. “Any players, coaches and staff who will attend Team Canada’s selection camp for the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship and were not part of a national team program this summer will participate in the training before the camp begins.”

Hockey Canada says that last month it adopted the so-called Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport 6.0. “All players, coaches and staff are mandated to sign the UCCMS and Hockey Canada’s Code of Conduct. Any breach of Hockey Canada’s Code of Conduct could result in a lifetime ban from all Hockey Canada programs,” the spokesperson writes.

The province confirmed Tuesday that “all Hockey Canada staff have completed training and signed an enhanced code of conduct,” and all players who have not yet undergone the sexual assault prevention training will receive it before the tournament begins. The anti-harassment policy the province is waiting for Hockey Canada to sign is the government’s creation, separate from the enhanced code of conduct.

“The Province of Nova Scotia’s anti-harassment policy makes it clear that there is no tolerance for instances of harassment and/or abuse at the 2023 World Juniors tournament. The policy sets standards and expectations for the behaviour of Hockey Canada’s athletes, coaches and staff who will be present for the tournament. The Government of New Brunswick has also created a similar policy for the tournament,” the spokesperson for the province writes.

That said, both the province and city clearly intend for the event to go ahead. The provincial spokesperson explains that regardless of a finalized contribution agreement, “the Province of Nova Scotia is committed to host the 2023 World Juniors tournament with our partners.”

“I think most definitely the pros outweigh the cons of holding this event,” councillor Blackburn says. “I think it's going to provide a much-needed boost for our tourism and hospitality industry in general in HRM.”

And mayor Savage is looking forward to the showcase. “Halifax and Moncton have long been hockey cities and excellent hosts for large sporting events,” he writes. “I know we can successfully welcome World Junior players and fans from around the world.”

Kaija Jussinoja

Kaija Jussinoja was a news reporter at The Coast, where she covered the stories that make Halifax the weird and wonderful place we call home. She is originally from North Vancouver, BC and graduated from the University of King’s College in 2022. Jussinoja joined The Coast in May 2022 after interning at The Chronicle...
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