As Halifax and Moncton prepare to host the 2023 world junior ice hockey championship, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick’s premiers say they are monitoring the situation around Hockey Canada and will “act accordingly,” as the sport’s national body finds itself embroiled in a controversy over its handling of a 2018 sexual assault allegation.

“Any allegation of sexual assault is serious, and disturbing. Creating a safe culture in sport is a priority in Nova Scotia, and we have no tolerance for assault and abuse anywhere in the sport system — or in society,” Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said in a statement Thursday.

“Hockey Canada has a lot of work to do. Canadians deserve action, answers and accountability from the organization. The work required to earn back the trust of Canadians needs to be transformational, and the culture in sport must continue to evolve.”

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In May, it was announced that Halifax and Moncton would host the 2023 world juniors following a successful bid from the two cities. The tournament is scheduled to be played from Dec. 26, 2022 to Jan. 5, 2023, with games to be held at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax and the Avenir Centre in Moncton.

In his statement, Houston said the championship is still scheduled to take place, but said he will keep an eye on it.

“We have a commitment to host the 2023 world junior championship, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely and act accordingly,” he said.

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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs made a similar statement Thursday, saying “allegations of sexual assault are disturbing and must be taken seriously.”

“Our government believes the safety and well-being of everyone are paramount and non-negotiable,” he said.

“The culture in sport must continue to change. There is good work underway here and across the country. Like everyone, we want to see Hockey Canada be accountable and address such issues in a way that leads to positive change.

“Becoming a cohost of the World Juniors is a great honour that comes with responsibility. Planning for the 2023 event is ongoing, and we will continue to monitor the situation and act accordingly.”

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Hockey Canada controversy

Hockey Canada’s National Equity Fund came to light earlier this week as the organization became embroiled in a controversy over its handling of an alleged 2018 sexual assault in London, Ont., involving eight unnamed players on Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team.

Hockey Canada had a fund, which was maintained by membership fees collected across the country, to pay for any “uninsured liabilities as they arise,” including “potential claims for historical sexual abuse,” Glen McCurdie, Hockey Canada’s former vice-president of insurance and risk management, said in a July 2021 sworn affidavit in response to a lawsuit launched by an injured player in Ontario.

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Its secretive nature sparked outrage from many, including Trudeau, who on Wednesday called the news “unacceptable.”

Later that day, Hockey Canada said effective immediately, the fund “will be exclusively dedicated towards safety, wellness and equity initiatives, as well as insurance across our organization — activities which comprised 98 per cent of its resources between 2014 and 2021.”

Speaking with reporters during an unrelated announcement in Halifax Thursday, Trudeau said that move was “obviously a step in the right direction, but Hockey Canada needs to do an awful lot as an organization to gain back the trust of Canadians.”

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Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since May, when TSN first reported news of the alleged sexual assault of a woman following a 2018 gala in London. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Hockey Canada has since seen its federal funding cut off, corporate sponsors pause financial support and investigations into the incident reopened.

‘No place’ for sexual misconduct in sports

In an interview Thursday, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said the alleged incident “certainly is disturbing.”

“There’s a lot of aspects of this that are concerning, but I’m a little bit encouraged that Hockey Canada have invited an outside governance review of their organization, they’re reopening an investigation and it looks like they’re going to have all the right people involved in a way that didn’t happen the first time,” he said.

“I think that’s very positive. So we’re hoping that we turned a corner in the history of this, and we all need to recognize that there’s no place for any kind of sexual misconduct in sport.”

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Savage said he believes the 2023 championship will still take place in Halifax and Moncton, saying it would have a “big impact” on the city.

He noted that the 2022 world juniors are still scheduled to take place in Edmonton next month – after being cancelled last December due to COVID-19 outbreaks – and said there are “a lot of people with a great level of excitement” about the 2023 tournament coming to the Maritimes.

“We’ve done it before, we’ve done a very good job,” he said, referring to Nova Scotia previously hosting the tournament in 2003.

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“I think a lot of people also share their concern that we have to make sure that we change the culture of sport.… It’s not just in hockey and it’s not just in junior hockey,” said Savage.

“So there’s work to be done and I’m glad that Hockey Canada have stepped forward to say that they’re going to change the way they do business and they’re going to invite someone to come from the outside and give them advice on their governance.”

— with files from Aaron D’Andrea

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