Tim Hortons, Esso withdraw for world juniors in another blow for Hockey Canada





Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press







Published Wednesday, June 29, 2022 6:58PM EDT




TORONTO – Tim Hortons and Imperial Oil have joined a growing list of corporations to pull sponsorship dollars in the wake of Hockey Canada’s handling of an alleged sexual assault and out-of-court settlement.

Tim Hortons said Wednesday it is “suspending support” for the upcoming men’s world junior hockey championship this summer in Edmonton as the restaurant chain awaits details on how the national federation intends to take “strong and definitive action” following the “deeply concerning allegations.”

Hockey Canada has communicated that it is committed to changing the culture of hockey to make it safer and more inclusive for all, on and off the ice,” Tim Hortons said in the statement. “We have expressed strongly that we believe Canadians are urgently seeking concrete details from Hockey Canada about how it intends to do so.

“We will re-evaluate our sponsorship agreement once we have all the information we need to consider our options.”

Imperial Oil, which is the head sponsor of the Canadian national women’s under-18 hockey club championship under its Esso brand, also said it is withdrawing support from the world junior championship while continuing to sponsor youth and women’s programs.

The energy company took a more definitive step Wednesday, a day after releasing a statement saying it was “concerned by the recent allegations.”

“Imperial will not be supporting the upcoming 2022 men’s world junior championship with the Esso brand,” the company said Wednesday. “This matter is deeply concerning, and we have communicated our expectations to Hockey Canada that concrete steps must be taken to address safety issues and ensure swift culture change.”

The moves come after Scotiabank, Canadian Tire and Telus all paused Hockey Canada sponsorships Tuesday until the companies are confident the right steps are being taken to improve the sport’s culture.

The federal government froze Hockey Canada’s public funding last week.

Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit last month after a woman, now 24, claimed she was assaulted by members of the country’s 2018 gold-medal winning world junior hockey team at a gala and golf function four years ago in London, Ont.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Hockey Canada executives were grilled by legislators on Parliament Hill last week during a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting looking into the matter.

Scotiabank president and CEO Brian J. Porter said in an open letter Tuesday that marketing and events at the world juniors will be cancelled.

He said the investments would be redirected into other programs, including one that aims to help eliminate financial barriers for young people in the game, and the women’s world championship.

Canadian Tire said in its statement the company is “deeply disappointed in Hockey Canada’s lack of transparency and accountability around the assault allegations.” In addition to withdrawing support from the world juniors, Canadian Tire said it is “re-evaluating its relationship with Hockey Canada.”

Telus, meanwhile, said it’s redirecting sponsorship money to Canadian organizations that support women affected by sexual violence. The telecommunications giant added it would continue to support women’s events and youth programs.

Business development and partnerships have previously made up 43 per cent of Hockey Canada’s coffers, according to the organization’s most recent numbers, ahead of funding agencies (14 per cent), insurance premiums (13 per cent), interest revenue (10 per cent) and the taxpayer funds (six per cent).

Hockey Canada said last week it needs to “do more” to build a safer culture following a tumultuous few days that included president Scott Smith and outgoing CEO Tom Renney getting called to the floor by parliamentarians.

“Unfortunately, we did not receive many answers,” Pascale St-Onge, the federal government’s minister of sport, told reporters in Ottawa last Wednesday.

She said at the time Hockey Canada would only have its public money restored once officials produced an incomplete report from a third-party law firm hired to investigate the 2018 incident that allegedly involved eight players.

St-Onge added Hockey Canada must also become a signatory to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, a new government agency with the power to independently investigate abuse complaints and levy sanctions.

The woman who made the assault allegation was seeking $3.55 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and the unnamed players.

Details of the settlement have not been publicized, but Smith testified to the committee Hockey Canada came up with the funds and paid the entire sum, adding no government money was used.

St-Onge has ordered an audit to make sure that’s the case.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is set to meet July 26 and 27 to hear from more witnesses. It has also requested a redacted copy of the non-disclosure agreement related to the financial settlement along with a long list of Hockey Canada communications.

St-Onge has said she only learned of the situation on call with Renney days before TSN broke the story last month. Hockey Canada said it informed Sport Canada of the situation in June 2018.

The House of Commons, meanwhile, has unanimously approved a Bloc Quebecois motion to pursue an independent investigation that will look into how Hockey Canada dealt with the allegations.

The organization hired Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP to conduct its investigation, but Smith and Renney told MPs that while players present at the London event were “strongly encouraged” to participate, it was not mandated.

Smith said 12 or 13 of the 19 players from the world junior team at the gala were interviewed by investigators.

Hockey Canada has said repeatedly the woman declined to speak with both police and its third-party law firm.

Smith and Renney reiterated to the committee the woman also chose not to name the players. They added Hockey Canada still does not know the identities of the eight players in question.

The independent investigation ended in September 2020, but Renney testified the report is incomplete and shouldn’t be released despite the fact in contained recommendations.

Smith testified last week on Parliament Hill that Hockey Canada has reported three sexual assault complaints in recent years, including the London incident, but declined to discuss the other two in front of the committee.

The NHL, which has said it also only recently learned of the allegations, is conducting its own investigation because some of the players in question are now in the league.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

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