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Family speaks out over alleged sexual assault at hockey camp


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Family speaks out over alleged sexual assault at hockey camp

Warning: This story contains graphic details.

The scandal rocking Canada’s national sport has prompted a Toronto family to speak out about an incident involving a 12-year-old boy that took place while he attended a weeklong overnight hockey summer camp.

The family launched a $1.45-million lawsuit against the camp’s owner and management for “intentional and/or negligent conduct.” They’re also suing four former campers for alleged physical and sexual assault. Three of them were 11 years old at the time and one was 12. In a statement of defence, they collectively deny “each and every allegation made.”

Several years ago, the then 12-year-old boy walked into a cabin and was grabbed, thrown to the ground and held there, while four boys attempted to shove a broomstick up his anus through his clothing, according to a statement of claim filed last year in Ontario Superior Court. He was told it was an “initiation” but did not give his consent. No supervisors were present.

The owner of Eagle Crest Resorts Ltd., operating as Hockey Opportunity Camp, acknowledges in a statement of defence that “inappropriate behaviour” took place inside a cabin but paints a different picture of the events. The camp is located in Sundridge, Ont., two and a half hours north of Toronto. On its website, the camp says it offers “the ultimate summer hockey team experience.”

According to a statement of defence, counsellors learned that a boy and some other campers were “gently struck/poked with a broom and were fully clothed at the time.”

“None of the campers reported that they felt sexually violated in any manner, and it was these defendants’ understanding … that such incident was not sexual in nature, nor had any campers been physically injured.” Counsellors were advised the behaviour was part of an “initiation” and that “most campers” willingly participated, the statement says.

That boy, now in his late teens, alleges he was the victim of a sexual assault.

While the family eschewed publicity about the incident that happened several years ago, they say they’re speaking out now in the wake of the Hockey Canada scandal blowing up over the sporting body’s handling of past sexual assault claims involving young players.

The shocking revelations have made headlines across the country, prompting parliamentary hearings and sparking calls for governance changes.

In the case of the hockey camp, the Star agreed not to identify the family, nor the minor defendants.

“All of it makes me feel sick,” said the teenager, referring to the scandal enveloping Canadian hockey. After his own experience, he said he was subjected to bullying both in middle and high school and was labelled “broom boy.” The taunting was exacerbated on social media.

The family’s statement of claim says he continues to suffer “physical, psychological and emotional injuries.”

His father believes many Canadians are appalled “at hockey in general right now and the culture of ‘taking care of our own.’ But I think that wall is coming down, brick by brick.”

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The teen’s mother wants to be part of a national conversation about toxic behaviour and the culture of abuse and silence within sport: “I think it’s our moral obligation to have the strength to speak out because one voice might not be enough to change things.”

The family’s statement of claim, filed in 2021 and replacing an earlier lawsuit, alleges that none of the defendants contacted them or the police, and that they advised the boy and other campers not to mention the incident to anyone, including their parents. It also alleges other boys were subjected to similar conduct.

His parents said they learned about what happened from their “emotionally shaken and crying son” and are upset no camp representative approached them. They reported “the attack and sexual assault” to the Ontario Provincial Police and an investigation was carried out. No charges were laid.

Michael Foulds, a lawyer representing Eagle Crest Resorts Ltd., which operates Hockey Opportunity Camp, and its owner and director, Kevin McLaughlin, declined to comment, “given that the case is before the courts.” Angelo Sciacca, the lawyer representing the four youths, also declined to comment.

But in their statement of defence, they deny what happened was sexual assault. For that reason, it says, the police weren’t notified, and all parents with campers involved were provided with a letter that said counsellors had interrupted “a type of initiation/hazing behaviour.”

“What started as cabin horseplay involving spraying sunscreen and hitting each other with a broom quickly escalated into inappropriate initiation acts using the broom handle to intrude (on) other people’s personal space,” the letter said.

“The parents were given the letter in part to encourage the campers to discuss the incident with them,” the statement of defence says.

While the teen’s parents allege the camp neglected its duty by failing to inform them of what happened, the statement of defence said that’s because they picked up their son not at the camp but at the skating rink, which wasn’t following the usual protocol.

The defendants state “that they took all reasonable steps to ensure the safety” of the boy and other campers. It was also “entirely reasonable” to allow 12-year-olds free time in the cabins without direct supervision, but knowing counsellors were in close proximity.

A separate statement of defence filed on behalf of the four alleged perpetrators also denies all allegations, other than to acknowledge they were enrolled as campers that summer. Their lawyer said he would be asking the courts to seal the civil file.

Justin Linden, the lawyer representing the family, said the media spotlight on sexual violence in hockey played a significant role in their decision to speak out.

He takes issue with a key aspect of the hockey camp’s statement of defence.

“It’s beyond terrifying that they would try to categorize holding a boy down and trying to penetrate him with a broom as anything other than a sexual assault,” he told the Star on Tuesday.

Linden’s law firm also acted for one of the primary victims in the November 2018 incident at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, when a boy was sexually assaulted in a locker room after a football game.

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy

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