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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rips Hockey Canada leadership over sex assault fund

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By Joshua Clipperton

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau understands the public’s frustration and disgust with Hockey Canada.

He shares many of those same feelings.

Trudeau ripped the federation’s leadership Tuesday in the wake of revelations that it maintains a fund meant to deal with sexual abuse claims.

“I think right now it’s hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada,” he told reporters at an event on Bowen Island, B.C.

“What we’re learning … is absolutely unacceptable.”

Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since May when news broke that the organization quietly settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges she was assaulted by eight unnamed players, including members of the country’s 2018 world junior team, following a gala in London, Ont., four years ago.

The organization has since had federal funding cut off because of its handling of the case and settlement, while a number of corporations paused sponsorship dollars.

Trudeau, who added the situation is “completely outrageous” when answering in French, said government support would remain frozen “pending significant reforms, transparency and accountability.”

The Canadian Press was first to report Monday that Hockey Canada has maintained the fund — which comes from membership fees collected across the country — to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.

The detail was included in a July 2021 affidavit sworn by Glen McCurdie, who was then Hockey Canada’s vice-president of insurance and risk management, as part of a lawsuit launched by an injured player in Ontario.

“Hockey Canada maintains a reserve in a segregated account to pay for any such uninsured liabilities as they arise,” said McCurdie’s affidavit, which goes on to state “uninsured liabilities include potential claims for historical sexual abuse.”

Hockey Canada confirmed in a statement Tuesday it has a so-called “National Equity Fund” to cover a “broad range of expenses related to safety, wellness and equity initiatives.”

“The fund is also used to pay for the organization’s insurance premiums and to cover any claims not otherwise covered by insurance policies, including those related to physical injury, harassment, and sexual misconduct,” the statement read.

Hockey Canada added the fund was “established in a manner consistent with reserve funds maintained by other large national organizations.”

“When I think about the culture that is apparently permeating the highest orders of that organization, I can understand why so many parents, why so many Canadians who take such pride in our national winter sport, are absolutely disgusted by what’s going on,” Trudeau said Tuesday. “As a government, we will continue to be unequivocal in our condemnation of what we’re learning.

“And mostly in our demands that things change significantly.”

Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa last month that no government money was used in the settlement of the alleged assault, both of which were first reported by TSN in May.

The woman had been seeking more than $3.5 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and the unidentified players.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas, a member of the 2018 world junior team, released a statement on social media Tuesday saying he had no involvement in the alleged incident.

Four other members of the team — Cale Makar, Victor Mete, Conor Timmins and Jonah Gadjovich — have also publicly stated they weren’t involved.

McCurdie, who retired in December, was not present for committee proceedings last month due to the death of his father, but has been subpoenaed by the committee for a subsequent round of meetings slated to begin next Tuesday.

Hockey Canada released a carefully worded open letter last week with a number of promises, including a pledge to reopen an incomplete third-party investigation into the alleged assault and a full governance review.

“We know we have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 national junior team or to end the culture of toxic behaviour within our game,” Hockey Canada wrote last week.

“For that we unreservedly apologize.”

Smith, who took over from Tom Renney as CEO on July 1, testified on Parliament Hill last month that Hockey Canada reported a total of three sexual assault complaints in recent years, but wouldn’t discuss the other two in front of the committee.

He added there have been up to two complaints of sexual misconduct each of the last five or six years.

Hockey Canada said in its open letter that participation by players in the third-party investigation into the London incident will be mandatory — unlike before — and that anyone who declines will be banned from all activities and programs.

Smith testified last month “12 or 13” of the 19 players were interviewed before the original and incomplete investigation concluded in September 2020.

The woman’s lawyer said in an email last week his client, who did not take part in the initial probe or speak with police, “will be participating in the Hockey Canada investigation.”

The NHL is also conducting an investigation because some of the players are in the league, but isn’t making participation mandatory.

“I’m very, very concerned by the culture, which apparently has reached the highest levels of the organization,” Trudeau said Tuesday of Hockey Canada in French.

“It’s essential — really crucial — that there be a new approach and that there be oversight, responsibility, accountability.”

With files from Amy Smart on Bowen Island, B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2022.

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COVID-19

Defence minister stands by military’s vaccine mandate amid months-long review

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The Liberal government is defending the military’s continued use of a vaccine mandate for Armed Forces members as a condition of employment amid pressure to end the requirement and questions about when a promised “tweak” will finally be unveiled.

The Canadian Armed Forces has required since December that all troops receive two shots of a recognized COVID-19 vaccine or face disciplinary proceedings, including forced removal from the military.

While the vast majority of service members have bared their arms for shots, more than 1,100 have not. More than 400 of those have since hung up their uniforms, either voluntarily or involuntarily, with more on their way out.

The requirement remains in place even though mandates for other federal workers have been suspended. The government announced this week that vaccination requirements for international travellers will also be lifted on Saturday.

It was in this context that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre this week called on the Liberals to end what he described as the military’s “discriminatory and unscientific vaccine mandate,” though the decision is ultimately up to chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand voiced support for the mandate as she and other federal ministers briefed Canadians on hurricane recovery efforts in Atlantic Canada.

“It’s a force that must be ready at all times to conduct domestic and international military operations, sometimes in places with limited or no access to specialized medical care, sometimes in very close quarters with their fellow Canadian Armed Forces members,” she said.

“Therefore, the Canadian Armed Forces has a more stringent requirement to enforce health protection measures.”

Anand did note that Eyre is taking a second look at the requirement after the government lifted its mandates for other federal employees. “Pending this review,” she added, “(Eyre)’s directives remain in effect for CAF members until further notice.”

Exactly when that review may be completed remains a mystery, however.

Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier described the review on Thursday as “a complex issue,” with the military having to “balance medical and legal imperatives, ethical considerations, and operational requirements.”

“The CAF will continue to take a measured approach and make a decision when deemed operationally safe to do so.”

The department first reported that the mandate was being re-examined in June, and a draft copy of a revised vaccine policy obtained by the Ottawa Citizen in July suggested vaccine requirements for military personnel would be lifted.

The draft document, which officials said was not approved by Eyre, said military personnel and new recruits would no longer have to attest to their vaccination status.

The document also noted potential legal difficulties ahead to deal with people who were kicked out of the military because of the vaccine mandate, suggesting they could be forced to apply for re-enrolment.

By contrast, other unvaccinated federal public servants were put on leave without pay but allowed to return to their jobs when the mandate was suspended.

However, Eyre indicated in an interview with The Canadian Press last month that a “tweak” was coming in weeks as he tried to find the “sweet spot” between the military’s medical, legal, operational and ethical requirements.

At the same time, he called the mandate necessary to keep the military ready to respond to any emergency, noting that the force was called upon to assist in hospitals and long-term care facilities in Canada, and that many allies and foreign nations still have mandates.

“We need to maintain our operational viability going forward,” he said. “So over the course of the next number of weeks, we will tweak the policy, we’ll put out something amended.”

A number of serving members have unsuccessfully challenged the mandate in court, while some groups and individuals opposed to vaccine mandates, pandemic lockdowns and the Liberal government have used the military’s continued requirement as a rallying point.

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

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Business

Vancouver gas prices pass $2.39, breaking North American record: analyst

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Vancouver – Gas prices in Vancouver hit a new high of more than $2.39 a litre at some stations Thursday, blowing past the previous peak set this summer.

One gas analyst said that’s a new all-time record for North America, and expects prices to continue to rise this week.

Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, said prices passed the previous record of nearly $2.37 a litre, set in Vancouver in June, due to the temporary shutdown of refineries in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and California.

McTeague said prices will likely rise again then drop fairly quickly once the supply issues are resolved.

“I don’t see the all-clear light at the end of the tunnel just yet. It’s going to happen and when it does it will be a dramatic drop, probably about 20 cents a litre, not in one fell swoop but very close to that over two or three days,” he said.

Gas prices jumped overnight across Canada by almost 20 cents in some places.

McTeague said no one could have predicted gas prices increasing at the speed they have over the past several days.

“The bottom line is that there’s not enough supply out there and however we got here, we’re going to have to spend a bit more time trying to figure this out because this is the kind of things that bring economies to a standstill,” he said.

According to the CAA’s price tracker, gas is up nationally by just over three cents on average at $1.58 per litre, with some provinces seeing higher jumps than others.

The CAA says the average gas price across Vancouver was $2.32 on Thursday.

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

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