OTTAWA, Ontario — Hockey Canada’s board chairs, past and present, played defense when questioned Tuesday by the House of Commons about how it handled alleged sexual assaults and how money was paid out in lawsuits.
Former chair Michael Brind’Amour, who resigned Aug. 6, and interim chair Andrea Skinner appeared via video conference before a Canadian Heritage standing committee in Ottawa.
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, Ontario, that year.
“Toxic behavior exists throughout society,” Skinner said. “Suggesting that toxic behavior 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 behavior, particularly against women.”
Skinner and Brind’Amour also 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, referring to calls from Canada Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge and victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy and others for Hockey Canada leadership to step down. “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.”
Edmonton Oilers chair Bob Nicholson, who was Hockey Canada’s president and CEO from 1998 to 2014, did not appear, but has been asked to do so at a future hearing.
Other revelations this year include Hockey Canada’s admission it drew on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims and that police in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 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.
It also was revealed in July hearings that Hockey Canada had paid out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and sexual abuse claims since 1989 — the majority of that money went to those abused by junior hockey coach Graham James and did not include this year’s payout of an undisclosed sum to the London plaintiff.
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.