Hockey Canada’s under-fire management eventually backed down amid fierce and unwavering criticism of the beleaguered organization’s handling of sexual assault allegations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday’s development took too long to materialize – and the departures are just a “first step” on the road to transforming the sport in this country.
“There is a culture to change,” Trudeau told reporters in Sorel-Tracy, Que. “There is a tremendous amount of work to ensure that the structures and systems that Hockey Canada has in place protect employees, protect Canadians, protect our children when they play hockey.”
Hockey Canada announced hours earlier that Scott Smith is no longer president and CEO, while the board of directors has resigned.
Smith spent nearly three decades climbing the corporate ladder, but lasted just over three months at the top following a scandal-filled spring and summer that rocked the institution.
He couldn’t survive the fallout related to Hockey Canada’s mishandling of assault allegations and how settlements were paid – revelations that both enraged the country and opened another conversation about the sport.
Hockey Canada said in a statement that an interim management committee will guide the organization until a new board, to be elected in December, names Smith’s successor.
Hockey Canada said the outgoing board recognizes “the urgent need for new leadership and new perspectives” in stepping down.
Federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge called Tuesday’s changes “a step toward restoring Canadians’ confidence in the organization.”
“The interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change,” she said in a statement.
“We expect Hockey Canada to actively work towards a team whose expertise will contribute to better player support and coaching, and an environment free from sexual violence and discrimination.”
Smith and the outgoing board follow former president Michael Brind’Amour, who resigned in August, and interim president Andrea Skinner, who resigned on Saturday, as victims of an organization that has seen politicians , including Trudeau, calling for change as corporate sponsors jump ship. .
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a member of the House of Commons heritage committee which looked into Hockey Canada, said Tuesday’s news “seems like a big step forward”.
He added that he believed that when Skinner and Brind’Amour appeared before the committee last week – the third time Hockey Canada officials have been called to Parliament Hill since June – they and other members of management believed the storm could still be weathered.
Instead, the heat was even higher following a disastrous showing that saw the organization dig their heels in further and support Smith.
“If the heritage committee hadn’t gone as bad as it did last week for Hockey Canada, I don’t think it would have happened,” Housefather said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Their intention on the way to the meeting was to tell everyone that the media had it all wrong and that they were scapegoats and that they were fine.
“The meeting and everything that followed led to this.”
A number of high profile corporate sponsors either suspended funding altogether as a result.
Tim Hortons, which said last week it would not fund the men’s program for the upcoming season, called Tuesday’s changes “a first step for Hockey Canada to do what is necessary to restore faith and trust Canadians”.
“We will not consider restoring our support for Hockey Canada’s men’s programming until we are confident that progress is being made and Canadians once again believe in the leadership of the organization and its ability to do what is right. is just for the game we all love,” the company said. in a report.
New Democrat MP Peter Julian said on Tuesday the scandals resonated because lawmakers had never acted before “to ensure accountability and transparency, and a zero-tolerance policy on issues of sexual abuse and sexual violence “.
“The feds need to step up,” Julian said in an interview. “For all the national sports organizations that have been able to do whatever they want without any government oversight for far too long.”
St-Onge said the government was looking to revise its own policies so that his department is not just a funder of sport, but can do more to ensure organizations are accountable for their actions.
Smith took over from outgoing CEO Tom Renney on July 1 after a succession plan was announced in April, but the world of Hockey Canada began to unravel soon after.
TSN was the first to report in May that an undisclosed settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged in a $3.55 million lawsuit that she had been sexually assaulted by eight players – including members of the country’s world junior team – after a Hockey Canada gala in 2018 in London, Ont.
Smith, who previously served as president and chief operating officer, and Renney, who will soon be retiring, were interviewed at what would be the committee’s first meeting on Hockey Canada in June.
MPs were stunned by what they saw as a lack of transparency and accountability. Hockey Canada subsequently saw its federal funding cut, while a number of companies suspended sponsorship funds.
Hockey Canada released an open letter in July that contained a number of promises, including a commitment to reopen an independent investigation into the alleged 2018 assault and a full governance review.
But the ugly headlines continued when it emerged that Hockey Canada had used a secret fund partly fed by minor hockey registration fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including assault and sexual abuse claims.
Days before an ‘action plan’ to address sport safety issues was released, Hockey Canada announced that members of the 2003 World Junior Team were being investigated for gang sexual assault. .
Hockey Canada officials testified to parliamentarians in July that the organization had paid $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse complaints since 1989, not including this year’s payment to the London plaintiff .
Smith testified again before the heritage committee in July at a meeting where he repeatedly resisted calls for his resignation.
London police, meanwhile, have reopened the investigation into the 2018 incident. The NHL is also investigating. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Calls for Smith’s ouster intensified last week following the committee’s last meeting after the former and current Hockey Canada board chair backed the executive, with Skinner adding that sport should not be a “scapegoat” for a toxic culture that exists elsewhere. in society.
The response to those comments has been swift, with provincial organizations withdrawing funds and a number of corporate sponsors – including Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire and Nike – either pausing or withdrawing millions of sponsorship dollars entirely.
Bauer’s vice-president of global marketing, Mary-Kay Messier, said the company, which halted some of its sponsorships hours before Hockey Canada’s leadership change announcement, tried to work in the backstage.
“Our plan was to hopefully be able to make changes,” she said. “Our meetings led us to believe that this was not going to happen.”
Trudeau mused last week replacing Hockey Canada with another national body, while Nova Scotia’s premier said he needed significant changes for his province to follow through on plans to host upcoming championships. World Junior Championships in Halifax and Moncton, New Brunswick.
The dominoes finally started falling over the weekend when Skinner resigned before Smith and the rest of the board quit on Tuesday.
“There is work to be done to transform the culture of Hockey Canada,” Trudeau said. “But today was an important first step.”
-With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa, Morgan Lowrie in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, John Chidley-Hill in Toronto and Brett Bundale in Halifax.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 11, 2022.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press