University of Ottawa hockey team probe was part of legal strategy

The University of Ottawa is refusing to release a pair of investigative reports into misconduct that led to the suspension of its men’s hockey team, revealing for the first time that the probe was launched as part of a pre-emptive legal strategy.

OTTAWA — The University of Ottawa is refusing to release a pair of investigative reports into misconduct that led to the suspension of its men’s hockey team, revealing for the first time that the probe was launched as part of a pre-emptive legal strategy.

As a result, the varsity players find themselves in the odd situation of having participated willingly in an investigation, overseen by a major law firm, that was aimed at protecting the university from possible lawsuits.

Police in Thunder Bay have charged two players with sexual assault in connection with an incident involving a 21-year-old woman during a road trip in February 2014. The team was initially suspended for the remainder of the 2013-14 season, and now the men’s hockey program has been put on hold through 2015-16.

The remaining 22 players are represented in a $6-million class-action lawsuit against the university that alleges their reputations were unnecessarily tarnished.

Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer representing the players in the suit, said it’s “fundamentally wrong” to withhold the reasons behind the suspension.

“If you’re going to punish somebody for something that you said they did wrong, you have to at least disclose to them the basis for the punishment … it’s fundamental fairness to human beings,” Greenspon said in an interview.

“You’re clearly punishing these guys, you’re clearly affecting their lives, and you’re refusing to release the results of the investigation that they say is the basis for this punishment.”

Last June, university president Allan Rock told a news conference that independent investigator Steven Gaon had delivered a report. Rock said the university fired hockey coach Real Paiement based on the finding he did not inform school officials about the Thunder Bay incident.

In a subsequent letter to the Globe and Mail, Rock said the investigation also “disclosed widespread behaviour that was disreputable and unbecoming of representatives of uOttawa and suggested an unhealthy climate surrounding the team.”

Gaon was actually hired and directed by the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright Canada, which in turn had been retained by the university.

“Norton Rose Fulbright..retained an independent investigator to probe the facts underlying the allegations, in order to be in a position to give legal advice to the university on potential legal claims arising from the men’s hockey team matter,” the firm said in a submission to Ontario’s information commissioner in December.

The Canadian Press lodged a complaint with the commissioner’s office after the university refused to release any part of the investigation’s findings under the province’s freedom of information law.

In May, Gaon delivered not one, but two reports — one about allegations of sexual misconduct, and the other on excessive drinking. Those reports were also prepared “for use in giving legal advice,” according to university lawyer David Bolger.

The university said in a June press release that Gaon’s findings would not be published “to avoid any interference with the ongoing police investigation and out of respect for the university’s privacy obligations.”

But in its submissions to the information commissioner, the university cites as its primary concern the fact that the records are considered legal advice.

“The records should not be disclosed. They are protected by solicitor-client privilege, both at common law and under the statutory exemption created by the Act,” the university wrote.

Anne-Marie Roy, president of the University of Ottawa’s student federation, said it is in the interest of the wider university community to have the information released.

“How are we supposed to hold this university accountable for cases of sexual violence if there’s absolutely no transparency, if we don’t know what’s actually happening?” said Roy.

“If there are serious findings in that report, how am I supposed to make sure that the University of Ottawa is properly taking steps to make sure that doesn’t reoccur?”

The university also cites concerns over privacy and the police investigation in its refusal to release the documents. It said the records are “replete with personal information about the members of the men’s hockey team and the men’s hockey team’s former coach,” “details about the alleged assault that have not been made public,” and “sensitive details about the alleged victim’s interactions with members of the men’s hockey team.”

“Given that the reports conclude that 1/8name(s) withheld 3/8 had changed their stories over time, there is a very real risk that the release of this information would result in 1/8name(s) withheld 3/8 colluding (intentionally or unintentionally) when they are called to give evidence,” reads the submission.

An edited copy of the sexual misconduct report was prepared by the university to see if there was an possibility of releasing them to The Canadian Press. But it concluded that “this would compromise the university’s ability to seek appropriate legal advice and be fully informed about its legal rights and responsibilities.”

It also worried that there would be a risk of the public deducing the identity of players, even with their names withheld.

The University of Ottawa released last summer an evaluation by two outside academics on the institution’s policies, practices and procedures.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan takes part in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on December 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives to call top Sajjan, Trudeau aides to testify on Vance allegations

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives plan to summon two senior Liberal aides… Continue reading

Elvira D'Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Several provinces were preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday, as Canada’s… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

Most Read