News of sexual assaults involving Hockey Canada have shocked and appalled Canadians. Hockey is religion in Canada; so when the news broke; it broke hard and fast.
In May 2022, Hockey Canada settled a $3.55-million lawsuit filed in April by a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by eight former Canadian Hockey League players following a Hockey Canada Foundation event in London, ON in June 2018. The allegations were never tested or tried in Court. The London Police Service did not press any charges in relation to these allegations; but they will be re-opening their investigation.
Another alleged sexual assault took place in 2003 at the World Juniors tournament in Halifax. Hockey Canada “heard a rumour about ‘something bad’ at the 2003 World Juniors. In order to learn more, Hockey Canada hired a third-party investigator to try to find more information.” The allegations have not been tried or tested in Court and remain allegations. But Halifax Police is opening an investigation in to this case as well. Players have come forward and denied any knowledge of the allegations.
Here is why these cases are so interesting to personal injury lawyers, and to the public at large:
- It’s Hockey. Canadians LOVE Hockey. When the world shut down during the Global COVID-19 Pandemic, you know what continued on a grass roots level; secretly? Hockey! Hockey never stops in this country and will never stop. So when a breaking story involving alleged sexual assaults breaks involving Hockey Canada; it sends shockwaves across the country and makes front page news.
- The alleged perpetrators aren’t regular people. They are likely high profile hockey players. When I say high profile; they will likely carry a higher profile than a non-professional athlete or non-celebrity. Hockey players have status in Canada whether you like it or not. They are celebrities.
- Hockey Canada used an internal fund to payout on one sexual assault case that we know of. Nobody knew about this fund until now. It was a secret. This fund was used on the sexual assault case which settled outside of Court for $3.55 million. This settlement did not involve any third party insurance. Hockey Canada paid out the settlement on their own, despite the fact they appear to have insurance which may cover this sort of thing. By paying out the claim on their own, Hockey Canada does not need to involve any third party insurers, any third party investigators, or any outside lawyers. They can handle everything very quietly and in house. Keeping things quiet and in house for a sensitive sexual assault case is a good strategy. But that strategy backfires when there are allegations that Hockey Canada has not been transparent to its membership or to the government in terms of handling these cases. You can understand how the public might be upset when their dues are going to fund lawsuit settlements without their knowledge. Tax payers who indirectly subsidize Hockey Canada with their tax dollars would be upset as well when their tax dollars are perceived to be used on lawsuit settlements rather than the daily operations of Hockey Canada and the promotion and growth of the game which we all love.
- There has been mention that hockey culture needs a shift. This is an example of that culture needing to change.
Personal injury lawyers love these cases, and here’s why:
Personal Injury Lawyers treat these cases very seriously. It takes a great amount of strenght, courage and conviction for a survivor of sexual assault to step forward.
But all a personal injury lawyer can do is get the Plaintiff money.
The personal injury lawyer cannot put the accused behind bars.
The personal injury lawyer cannot force that person to make a public apology; or take a page out of the local newspaper and admit to their crimes.
The personal injury lawyer cannot force the accused to stop living their normal lives; and force them to be confined to shame in their own home.
The only thing that the personal injury lawyer can do is get the Plaintiff paid.
For some; that payment is an acknowledgment that they were in the right. It’s a form of justice. For others, no amount of money will ever be enough; and going through the stress of a civil lawsuit; or any lawsuit for that matter isn’t worth it.
Let’s assume that these alleged sexual assaults have nothing to do with hockey, Hockey Canada, potentially very wealthy hockey players; or people with deep pockets. The potential perpetrators are regular people, who aren’t very wealthy at all. They carry a mortgage on their home; or they rent. They have credit card debt. They are in between jobs.
A Plaintiff might “win” their case at trial. Perhaps they can win a $3,000,000+ judgment! But what good is that Judgment if the Defendant has no money to pay it? The Judgment is worth only as much as the piece of paper it’s written on.
Sure; that Judgment represents justice. But it does not get the Plaintiff compensated for his/her injuries. And compensation is what the civil justice system is all about.
Now let’s examine the current situation against Hockey Canada and the Hockey Players. Hockey Canada and the Hockey Players all likely have the assets and the means to pay out on a potential judgment. Professional Hockey players, and professional athletes in North American sport receive substantial pay cheques.
The significance is that not only are these high profile sexual assaults because they involve a beloved sport and potentially high profile athletes; but also the proposed Defendants are seemingly not judgment proof like the situation painted above involving the everyday person as a Defendant.
The first rule of Civil Litigation or Personal Injury Law is to sue a Defendant with deep pockets. The Defendant needs to have the ability to pay out on a potential judgment, otherwise, the Plaintiff will end up with an empty Judgement.
In these cases involving Hockey Canada; you have the perfect storm of an organization with deep pockets; along with individuals who likely have the ability to pay out on a potential judgment as well. Not to mention to high profile which the sport of hockey carries in this country, and you have a media frenzy on the topic of sexual assault claims which have existed in this country for centuries. Want to get people’s attention? Just add hockey. For years victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse have been suffering. While there has been increased attention and a better understanding of the topic over the years, these offences continue. There needs to be a serious cultural and philosophical shift in our institutions and our thinking in order to get to the root of these problems. Please don’t get me started on the topic of police investigations.