The Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) ONSIDE program, which provides players with training to increase their understanding and awareness of sexual harassment and assault, returns this fall after a hiatus that the organization says was due to pandemic restrictions.
The program has not operated since 2019, following the cancellation of the 2020 season and 2021 restrictions on in-person training.
The announcement of the resumption of the ONSIDE program comes as some hockey organizations in Canada face intense scrutiny over the lack of transparency surrounding sexual assault in the industry.
The Kitchener Rangers were able to take practice in March, but the OHL says it hasn’t insisted it be done in the past two years.
Hamilton Bulldogs chief operating officer Peggy Chapman said the team hasn’t considered practice mandatory for the past two years due to COVID-19 restrictions, but also because many players had already had training and that the 2021 season was a championship race. .
For the Bulldogs, the program is taught by the Sexual Assault Center of Hamilton (SACHA).
SACHA executive director Jessica Bonilla-Damptey said the annual assault workshop should be attended by the entire team, coaching staff and executives.
“I think it’s important that the whole team is there, not just the new signings coming in, but the team members who have been there for years,” Bonilla-Damptey said.
Chapman said they usually attend ONSIDE practice at the start of the season in the fall. This September will be their first year of full return since the start of COVID-19.
Hockey Canada Judgment
Last May, Hockey Canada responded to allegations that a woman was sexually assaulted by eight unidentified working junior players at a gala in London, Ontario in 2018.
In June, following the settlement of this case, it emerged that Hockey Canada has reached 21 sexual assault settlements since 1989and nearly $9 million in settlements had been paid to victims from a fund made up of hockey registration fees.
To be clear: each parent of #HamOnt and across the country who signed up their child for hockey contributed to a fund to cover up sexual assault. I’m furious and I hope you are too. Drastic changes are needed not only to the #HockeyCanada
“Management knows these things happened, and that’s a problem,” Bonilla-Damptey said. “It is important that leaders take these issues very seriously.”
HockeyCanada published an action plan on July 25, two days before it was revealed that hockey registration funds were being used to pay for sexual assault settlements. The action plan says Hockey Canada will improve its training on “masculinity, consent and toxic behaviors” in an effort to change the culture of hockey.
The action plan announcement says there will be “a comprehensive review of all existing training programs by an independent specialist” and improved character selection for players.
Chapman said Bulldogs president and general manager Steve Staios holds players to a high moral standard when recruiting.
Staios was unavailable for comment.
The OHL ONSIDE program
For OHL, sexual assault protection training has been required since 2016, when the OHL ONSIDE program was launched.
OHL Vice President Ted Baker said the league is already conducting mandatory training on mental health, drug use and respectful on-ice behavior.
“The only thing we were missing was what we formulated at the time as a program for respecting women,” Baker said.
Bonilla-Damptey said the program is a two-hour course taught to players, coaches and managers, with a curriculum created by SACHA.
Bonilla-Damptey said the workshop focuses on teaching OHL players to be leaders against sexual violence, and teaches players about rape culture, common myths surrounding sexual assault and intervention. spectators.
“How can players be a part, instead of being spectators?” she said, then added that the course asked players what it was like to be in a leadership position against sexual assault.
Chapman said the 2021 season was a championship run, meaning many players had already gone through training.
“I think it’s important that the whole team is there, not just the new signings coming in, but the team members who have been there for years,” she said.
When asked how the OHL measures the success of the ONSIDE program, Baker said it is measured by how attentive players are and participate in lessons.
He said the OHL was the first branch of Hockey Canada to introduce this type of player training, and that it was done proactively and not in response to allegations.
“If you’re absent from a program of this nature and doing nothing, I think your programming isn’t as inclusive of all areas as it could be,” Baker said. “If you don’t have the program, what happens? »
ONSIDE returns after COVID-19 hiatus
Baker said the OHL was in talks with the Region of Waterloo’s Sexual Assault Center on Wednesday about bringing the program back.
He said they would talk about “how we’re going to go into this season, what improvements we’re going to have, and that kind of stuff.”
Baker said every OHL team, including their three U.S. teams, is connected to a local sexual assault center in Ontario to participate in training.
He said the OHL wants the partnership with each team’s sexual assault center to go beyond just practices. He wants the members of the centers to participate in the puck throws, set them up in the hall of games and present their programs to the public.
“It’s just not about talking to players, it’s about how these agencies can use our teams to access the public,” Baker said.
There was confusion with SACHA about whether the program changed education providers, as the Bulldogs also voluntarily participate with the Be More Than a Bystander (BMTB) Program by Interval House.
Chapman said this year the Bulldogs will do both.
“It’s a mandatory program run by the league. All OHL teams must have a connection in the community with a sexual assault program,” Chapman said.
According to Chapman, the Bulldogs’ work with Interval House was also paused during the pandemic and will resume this year.
Deepen the training
Interval House executive director Sue Taylor said that due to the age range of Bulldogs players, which range from 16 to 21, they often work with younger children.
Interval House educators and Bulldogs players give a presentation in the locker room on dealing with children 11 and older. After the presentation, the Bulldogs practice with the children.
Bonilla-Damptey said teaching about consent and bodily autonomy from an early age is an important part of the conversation.
“Talking about consent should start at an early age.”
Although the BMTB program does not serve the same purpose as the OHL ONSIDE training, Taylor said she has seen firsthand the impact it has had on young players.
“Sport is typically a hyper-masculine platform, so to be able to show off what healthy masculinity is, and have mentors that coach that, and talk to young players and share that message is transformational,” said Taylor said.
“I think the ONSIDE training is a great start,” she said, adding that it should be an ongoing conversation.
“It’s important that these conversations take place within Hockey Canada and the Hamilton Bulldogs,” Bonilla-Damptey said.
“I don’t think it’s ever enough,” Baker said, adding that defining when they have enough sexual assault training is an ongoing process.
“We have a programme. We are the first league to have a programme. How can we improve the programme? How can we look at it and say, ‘OK, how can we do more?'”