Hockey Canada, one of the country’s richest sporting organizations, received $14 million in federal government support in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in emergency COVID-19 subsidies, according to financial statements obtained by CBC News.
The COVID-19 funds helped hockey’s not-for-profit national governing body book a $13.2-million budget surplus for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021 — further padding a collection of stocks, bonds, cash and other assets then worth in excess of $153 million. The organization reported a $3.2-million loss in 2020, due to declining market values for its investments, versus an $18.1-million surplus in 2019.
Hockey Canada’s finances will be front and center on Monday, when three current and former executives — including Tom Renney, the organization’s outgoing chief operating officer, who is set to retire on July 1 — are scheduled to testify on Parliament Hill before the standing committee on Canadian heritage.
Politicians from all parties are seeking to establish whether public funds were used to settle a $3.55-million lawsuit brought by a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by eight former Canadian Hockey League players following a Hockey Canada Foundation event in London, Ont., in June 2018.
Her statement of claim says some of the assailants — identified only as John Doe 1 through 8 — were members of Canada’s national junior team, which had captured IIHF World Championship gold six months before.
The woman has not been named, and her allegations have not been proven in court. But news of the lawsuit, first reported last month by TSN, has reverberated through the hockey world and beyond. Pascale St-Onge, the federal minister of sport, has ordered a forensic audit of Hockey Canada’s finances.
“What I want to know and what I think all Canadians want to know is, was there any public funds used to cover up that horrible story of collective rape?” St-Onge told reporters earlier this month after ordering the review. “The other thing that Canadians want to know is how could such an important organization make sure that their players are not accountable for these allegations.”
The National Hockey League is conducting its own investigation to determine if any of its current players were among those who were accused. Twenty-two members of the 2017-18 junior squad were NHL draft picks.
Hockey Canada representatives did not respond to a CBC News interview request or to written questions about its finances. But a media statement about the committee’s appearance, released last week, said that “no government funds were used in the recent settlement of the lawsuit.”
Not-for-profit had $25M in cash last June
The organization is very public about some numbers — such as its 385,190 registered players — but is less forthcoming when it comes to attaching dollars figures to its business. Hockey Canada says that only a small portion of its funding — six per cent, according to its 2020-21 annual report — comes from “government assistance,” in contrast to 43 per cent from “business development and partnerships.”
However, financial statements filed with the Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Directorate provide a more complete picture. (As a registered Canadian amateur athletic association, Hockey Canada is permitted to issue tax receipts for donations.)
Those filings show Hockey Canada received $5.65 million in Sports Canada operating grants in fiscal 2021, as well as $2.45 million under the Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS) and a further $197,000 in the Canada emergency rent subsidy, both pandemic relief programs. That total of $8.3 million represents 13.4 per cent of the organization’s $61.9 million in annual revenue.
For the fiscal year ending June 2020, Hockey Canada received $4.95 million in federal operating grants and $760,000 in CEWS funding — 8.7 percent of its $65 million in revenue.
As of the end of June 2021, Hockey Canada had almost $25 million in cash on hand, as well as $41.5 million in bonds and $77 million in equities, spread across three trust and endowment funds — with its total asset value growing $20 million from 2020 and $32 million more than in 2019.
The financial statements show that Hockey Canada paid no income tax in fiscal 2020 or 2021.
However, the organization did shell out $9.64 million in insurance premiums in fiscal 2021, for everything from accidental medical and dental coverage to third-party sexual misconduct liability — a potential source for the recent lawsuit settlement.
Calls for more accountability
Bruce Kidd, a professor emeritus of sport and public policy at the University of Toronto, said Canadians deserve more transparency from the people who run the country’s national sport.
“I think they owe a reporting of what happened … an account of how that settlement was paid out,” he said. “And I think more importantly for me, they need to provide a much better account of how they are trying to change the culture of their sport so that these assaults — which have a long history in hockey and some other sports — never happen again. “
Kidd said he believes that many sports in Canada are at a crisis point and that the appropriate government response might be to call a commission of inquiry, such as Charles Dubin’s probe of performance-enhancing drugs in the wake of the Ben Johnson doping scandal following the 1988 Summer Olympics.
“I think there are many more voices calling for change now than there were in the last moment when we had a national debate about sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct in sport in the early 1990s,” Kidd said. “I mean, it’s wall to wall now. It’s not just a few sports, it’s almost every sport. And it’s going to be very hard for the decision-makers not to act.”
Jennifer Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, the city where the alleged gang sexual assault took place, said the controversy about Hockey Canada’s handling of the 2018 allegations has disturbed some of her clients.
“I say women who have experienced sexual assault, they’re basically serving a life sentence because, yes, they can get support from agencies like ours, but it doesn’t go away for a really long time,” she said.
However, she said that all of the attention on whether taxpayers’ money was used for the settlement seems misguided.
“It just keeps happening. There’s like a slack-room mentality where it’s almost as if these young guys are essentially brought up with no value for a woman’s life,” Dunn said. “The real focus should be on how to get this to stop.”