OTTAWA – Hockey Canada’s board chairs, past and present, played defense amid parliamentary grills over the hockey body’s handling of sexual assault allegations and how the money went been poured into the lawsuits.
Former Speaker Michael Brind’Amour and Acting Speaker Andrea Skinner appeared by video on Tuesday before MPs at a meeting of the Canadian Heritage standing committee in Ottawa.
Hockey Canada has been under the national microscope since May, when it was revealed it settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players from the 2018 men’s junior hockey team at a gala in June in London, Ontario that year. .
Skinner, who was elected to Hockey Canada’s board of directors in 2020, was named interim president after Brind’Amour resigned Aug. 6.
Canada’s sport minister, Pascale St-Onge, and victims’ rights advocate, Sheldon Kennedy, said current Hockey Canada management must step down to allow for a culture change within the organization and to regain public trust.
Skinner insisted that hockey should not be the “scapegoat” or the “centerpiece” of a toxic culture that exists elsewhere in society. She referenced politicians who were accused of sexual misconduct at Tuesday’s hearing.
Skinner and Brind’Amour were asked why Hockey Canada President and CEO Scott Smith was not fired.
“Our board frankly does not share the view that senior management should be replaced based on what we consider to be substantial misinformation and unduly cynical attacks,” Skinner countered.
There was no motion or vote at the board level to oust Smith, according to Brind’Amour.
“I believe Mr. Smith has the qualities to do something positive for the organization,” he said.
Board elections will take place in November. Skinner has not pledged to run for office.
Tory MP Kevin Waugh claimed all current board members should have joined Brind’Amour by stepping down in August.
“You pulled the pin three months ago,” Waugh told Brind’Amour. “I would suspect the other eight should have pulled the pin with you.”
Maintaining leadership stability during a tumultuous time in an organization currently under governance scrutiny, and with board elections looming, doesn’t come at the expense of culture change, Skinner said.
“I think Hockey Canada can do both,” she said. “I can assure this committee and I can assure members of the Canadian public that changes are afoot.
“If the whole board resigns and all the senior executives are gone, I think it will have a very negative impact on our boys and girls who play hockey. Will the lights stay on on the rink? I do not know. We can’t predict that and to me it’s not a risk worth taking.
Since Hockey Canada’s rules were made public in the spring, Halifax police have been asked to investigate an alleged sexual assault by members of the 2003 junior men’s team.
Among other revelations, Hockey Canada admitted to dipping into minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims, as part of a “national equity fund.”
Skinner was asked about another monetary vehicle, the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, covering the uninsured liabilities of its member associations.
“No funds from this trust have been used to settle any claims,” Skinner said. “This trust was established to cover uninsured claims for a period that Hockey Canada and its members were self-insured between September 1986 and August 1995.
“All members have contributed to the trust. The trust is owned by the original contributors to the trust. Over the years, this trust has provided annual funding to members and the (Canadian Hockey League) through investment income realized and that revenues are distributed to members and the CHL, not to Hockey Canada.”
It was the fourth time Hockey Canada executives have been called to court after hearings on June 20 and July 26 and 27.
Smith, former chief executive Tom Renney, chief financial officer Brian Cairo and former vice president of insurance and risk management Glen McCurdie were interviewed during those hearings.
The chairs of the board appeared before the committee for the first time. Edmonton Oilers president Bob Nicholson, who was president and CEO of Hockey Canada from 1998 to 2014, did not appear, but the committee has requested to appear at an upcoming hearing.
It was revealed in July that Hockey Canada had paid out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989.
The figure did not include the payment this year of an undisclosed sum to the London plaintiff, who had sued for $3.5 million. None of the allegations have been tested in court.
St-Onge ordered a forensic audit in June to determine that no public funds had been used to settle this lawsuit.
The sports minister, who froze funding for Hockey Canada, has agreed to NDP MP Peter Julian’s new request for another audit dating back to 2016.
“We are trying to trace back as far as possible to ensure that no public funds were used in settling these cases,” St-Onge said Tuesday.
“What I heard today was definitely not what I expected. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Canadians were hoping for either. These are four political parties that represent all of Canada and they are unanimous in saying that the direction of the alleged gang rapes and multiple gang rapes was totally inappropriate for Hockey Canada. »
St-Onge believes Hockey Canada doesn’t have “the ability to renew itself from within” and wants its 13 minor hockey member associations to drive change.
Faced with the loss of corporate sponsorships and public outcry, Hockey Canada has presented an action plan to ensure safe sport and says it will no longer use the National Equity Fund to settle claims for sexual assault.
Hockey Canada has also appointed former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell to conduct a review of its governance. A draft recommendations report is expected before next month’s board elections.
Neither Skinner nor Brind’Amour confirmed that Hockey Canada spent $5,000 on inflight dinners. Brind’Amour said if it happened, it may have been special occasions with more people than board members.
Brind’Amour confirmed that board members received championship rings when national teams won international titles at $3,000 per ring.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 4, 2022.