Hockey Canada‘s board chairs, past and present, have defended the national sport body’s handling of sexual abuse allegations dating back to 2018, saying appropriate steps were taken at the time despite widespread criticism.
Former chair Michael Brind’Amour, who resigned in August, and his successor, interim chair Andrea Skinner, were questioned by MPs while appearing before the standing committee on Canadian heritage 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, Ont., that year.
“As a board, we wanted to do what we view as being responsible and respectful, particularly regarding the wishes of a young woman involved,” said Skinner, who is the first woman to lead the Hockey Canada board.
“I personally did not want to see the young woman subjected to the cruelty and the invasiveness of an adversarial court process involving cross-examination and harsh defence tactics.”
On Aug. 6, Brind’Amour resigned amid calls to reform Hockey Canada’s leadership for its handling of recent allegations of sexual assault against players, including two alleged incidents from 2003 and 2018.
“I strongly believe that Hockey Canada took appropriate action by reporting this incident to the police, Sport Canada and by launching an independent investigation,” said Brind’Amour, referring to the 2018 incidents that took place during his tenure as board chair.
“I understand the frustration of Canadians with the suspension of the investigation in 2020 and the case has recently resumed,” he told MPs.
Hockey Canada has been embroiled in a series of scandals, prompting calls to reform the national sport body’s leadership.
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On Tuesday, both Brind’Amour and Skinner fielded fierce questioning from MPs, as they were pressed on a wide range of issues plaguing the sport.
Skinner 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.
The federal government froze Hockey Canada’s funding in June and called its executives on the standing committee carpet June 20 and July 26 and 27.
Former president Tom Renney, current president and chief executive officer Scott Smith, chief financial officer Brian Cairo and former vice-president of insurance and risk management Glen McCurdie were among those grilled.
St-Onge and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have also called for Hockey Canada’s executives to step down.
But Skinner insisted that more leadership changes are not needed at this time.
“We believe it’s in the best interests of Hockey Canada and for all its participants that the organization’s leadership remain stable.”
Former NHL player and victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy, a Graham James survivor, has called for the resignation of Smith, Hockey Canada’s leadership team and the board of directors.
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.
Skinner said the frozen funding and lost sponsorships have compelled Hockey Canada to become more transparent.
“We need to be more transparent. I agree that we need to better communicate the things that we’ve done and the things that we’re doing. And that’s partly why I stepped into this role,” she said.
Former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell has been appointed by Hockey Canada to conduct a review of its governance.
An interim report of recommendations is expected before the board’s annual general meeting in November, when the next board election will take place.
— with files from The Canadian Press