Hockey Canada's board chairs defend organization's leadership, decisions
Hockey Canada's board chairs, past and present, played defence under House of Commons questioning of the hockey body's handling of alleged sexual assaults and how money was paid out in lawsuits.
Former chair Michael Brind'Amour and interim chair Andrea Skinner appeared via video conference Tuesday before a Canadian Heritage standing committee in Ottawa.
Skinner was appointed interim board chair after Brind'Amour resigned Aug. 6.
Canada's sports minister Pascale St-Onge and victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy are among people telling Hockey Canada leadership to step down in order to change the organization's culture.
"Toxic behaviour exists throughout society," Skinner said. "Suggesting that toxic behaviour is somehow a specific hockey problem, or to scapegoat hockey as a centerpiece for toxic culture is, in my opinion, counterproductive to finding solutions, and risks overlooking the change that needs to be made more broadly, to prevent and address toxic behaviour, particularly against women."
She and Brind'Amour were grilled on why Hockey Canada president and chief executive officer Scott Smith had not been fired or why an expensive public relations firm was hired to conduct damage control.
"What we have heard is there is a call for a new perspective. Hockey Canada has secured an outside perspective. We're taking steps to change how we communicate," Skinner said.
"Our board does not share the view that Hockey Canada should be making more leadership changes at this time. As a board, we continue to support the CEO and management."
Maintaining leadership stability during a tumultuous time for the organization, currently under a governance review and with board elections looming in November, doesn't come at the expense of the culture change, Skinner said.
Edmonton Oilers chair Bob Nicholson, who was Hockey Canada's president and CEO from 1998 to 2014, did not appear, but has been asked by the committee to appear at a future hearing.
Hockey Canada has been under the national microscope since May when it was revealed it had settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players from the 2018 junior men's hockey team during a June gala event in London, Ont., that year.
Among other revelations that followed was Hockey Canada's admission it drew on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.
Also, Halifax police were asked to investigate an alleged sexual assault by members of the 2003 junior men's team.
The feds have frozen Hockey Canada's funding and called its executives on the standing committee carpet June 20 and July 26-27.
Smith, former president Tom Renney, chief financial officer Brian Cairo and former vice-president of insurance and risk management Glen McCurdie were among those questioned. The board chairs appeared before the committee for the first time.
It was revealed in the July hearings that Hockey Canada had paid out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and sexual abuse claims since 1989.
That figure didn't include this year's payout of an undisclosed sum to the London plaintiff. The majority of that money went to those abused by junior hockey coach Graham James.
In the face of lost corporate sponsorships and public outcry, Hockey Canada laid out an action plan to address safe sport issues and says it will no longer use the "National Equity Fund" to settle sexual assault claims.
Hockey Canada also appointed former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to conduct a review of its governance.
An interim report of recommendations is expected before the board's annual general meeting in November.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.