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Halifax to 'go ahead' with hosting world junior hockey championships, says mayor

Mayor Mike Savage says the city has the expertise to put these games on
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Canada celebrates the win over Finland during overtime IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game action in Edmonton on Saturday August 20, 2022. The Halifax Regional Council says it will go ahead with hosting the IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton later this year.

Scandals within Hockey Canada won't prevent Halifax and Moncton from hosting the world junior hockey championships later this year, says the Halifax Regional Council. 

"We're gonna go ahead and put these games — put this tournament on, we're gonna do a hell of a job as we always do," Mayor Mike Savage told a special council meeting late Tuesday, adding a note of caution that "last minute problems are always possible."

Hockey Canada has been rocked by allegations of sexual assault, which led to its leadership — CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors — stepping down Tuesday amid blistering criticism. Savage said last week that meaningful change was needed at Hockey Canada before the tournament could take place.

The national sports organization has been under fire since May, when it was revealed a settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players — including members of Canada's men's world junior team in 2018.

Allegations of gang sexual assault involving the 2003 world junior team emerged in July. 

In an interview Wednesday, the Halifax mayor said the world juniors will be the first major tournament since the house cleaning at Hockey Canada.

"I think we've seen meaningful change," said Savage. "We don't know the whole story yet. We don't know who'll be on the board. We don't know who will be the CEO but I think this is a really important step. And I don't think there's any denying that it's a dramatic change and I think it's for the best."

Savage said a "high number" of tickets have been sold for the tournament, which is scheduled to take place in December and January. The remaining tickets, he said remain with Hockey Canada "for things like potential sponsors."

"I think it's fair to say that the (International Ice Hockey Federation) does not want to cancel or move the tournament this year," he said. 

"They've made a commitment to that. Their preference is to have this tournament. They know that Halifax can do this. They know that Moncton can do that. Can't foresee the unforeseeable."

It is the second time that Canada will host the world junior hockey championship within a span of four months.

The elite under-20 tournament will return to Atlantic Canada for the first time in 20 years. Halifax and Sydney, N.S., co-hosted the tournament in 2003.

The International Ice Hockey Federation needed to find a new location for upcoming event after stripping Russia of hosting privileges due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.  

Halifax Coun. Tony Mancini said the games will bring a $50 million economic boost to the two cities with $35 million of it being in Nova Scotia.

The 2023 championship will kick off Dec. 26, just a few months after the 2022 edition, won by Canada, wrapped up in Edmonton. The tournament will run until Jan. 5, 2013.

A number of councillors voiced their support for changes at Hockey Canada but added that there needs to be more scrutiny.  

Coun. Lisa Blackburn said Hockey Canada is in need of complete systemic change. 

"Through their actions, they've taught these boys who are now men that it's OK to use women any way they want, and they'll be supported," she said.

"They've taught these boys through their actions … that it's OK to cover up that wrongdoing and bury it from scrutiny."

When the organization was given the opportunity for transparency at a parliamentary hearing, Blackburn said Hockey Canada instead chose to present themselves as "arrogant, tone deaf and their testimony reeked of hubris."

While the City of Halifax had a good relationship with Hockey Canada, Savage said the manner in which the allegations were handled was unacceptable and lacked accountability.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2022.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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