Hockey Canada’s CEO and entire board of directors will leave the organization after facing fierce criticism for its handling of alleged sexual assaults.
The national organization announced the departures in a statement on Tuesday after hearing months of calls for leadership changes within the body, and seeing its major sponsors walk away over the past week.
“Effective immediately, (Hockey Canada’s board) announced the departure of chief executive officer Scott Smith. The entire board has also agreed to step down to make room for a new slate of directors,” the statement said.
“An interim management committee will be put in place, which will guide the organization until no later than a newly constituted board appoints a new CEO to lead the organization.”
Furthermore, Hockey Canada said the board will ask its members to select a new slate of directors no later than an upcoming virtual election, which is scheduled for Dec. 17.
The current board of directors will not seek re-election and will fulfil its “its fiduciary duties until such time as a new board is elected.”
“Hockey Canada is seeking board candidates to shape the future of the organization. We encourage qualified individuals to respond to the call for nominations issued by the independent nominating committee last week,” the statement said.
Hockey Canada added the interim management committee will focus on day-to-day operations and ensure progress on its action plan, including reviewing and working with the board towards the “full implementation of the independent governance review recommendations” and effective transition to a new CEO and board of directors.
Trudeau, sport minister say more needs to be done
Speaking to reporters in Sorel-Tracy, Que., on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the resignations “an important step forward” but added it took too long for Hockey Canada’s leadership to make that decision.
He added he expects the organization to do more to change the culture within the sport in order to athletes, employees and children across the country.
“There is work to do to transform the culture at Hockey Canada, but today was an important first step,” he said.
Trudeau and Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge have spent weeks calling on senior leadership to resign.
St-Onge said in a statement that Hockey Canada’s announcement was “the right decision.”
“While we welcome this news, the interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change,” she said.
“We expect Hockey Canada to actively work towards a team whose expertise will contribute to better support and training for players, and an environment exempt from sexual violence and discrimination.”
Hockey Canada must not only develop exception athletes, but “good citizens who respect women, the public and the law,” St-Onge added.
“The case of Hockey Canada shows that the governance and leadership of national sport organizations determine the way cases of sexual violence, abuse and other forms of maltreatment are managed,” she said.
“That is why I am determined to continue to work with partners, including athletes, to reform sport in Canada so that every organization we finance becomes more transparent and accountable.”
Hockey Canada leadership under fire
The organization’s leadership had been under fire for months over its handling of alleged sexual assaults.
The controversy surrounding Hockey Canada started to unfold in May when TSN reported that an undisclosed settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged in a $3.55-million lawsuit she was sexually assaulted by eight players — including members of the country’s world junior team — after a 2018 Hockey Canada gala in London, Ont.
Shortly after, news broke Hockey Canada had a fund partly maintained by minor hockey registration fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.
A Hockey Canada official testified on Parliament Hill in July the organization had doled out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989, not including this year’s payout to the London plaintiff. The majority went to the victims of disgraced former junior hockey coach Graham James.
London police later said they would reopen the investigation into the 2018 incident. The NHL is also conducting an investigation because many of the players from that junior team are now in the league.
Hockey Canada later announced members of the 2003 men’s world junior team were being investigated for an alleged group sexual assault, as calls for change at the top mounted. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Smith, a longtime Hockey Canada employee, became CEO on July 1 after a succession plan to replace outgoing CEO Tom Renney was announced in April. They would be the first Hockey Canada officials to be grilled by the standing committee on Canadian heritage in June, which starting looking into the controversy.
The lack of transparency and accountability during that session stunned MPs. Hockey Canada subsequently had federal funding cut off, while a number of corporations paused sponsorship dollars.
Afterwards, Hockey Canada published an open letter on July 14 that contained a number of promises, including a pledge to reopen an incomplete third-party investigation into the 2018 alleged assault and a full governance review.
That month, Smith testified a second time in another round of committee meetings where he resisted calls for his resignation from politicians of all parties.
Those calls increased further last Tuesday when Hockey Canada further dug in its heels during a third round of hearings in Ottawa, with both its former and current board chairs defending Smith’s leadership.
In wake of Andrea Skinner and Michael Brind’Amour’s testimonies, major sponsors like Tim Hortons, Imperial Oil, Canadian Tire and Nike announced they would be ending their partnerships with Hockey Canada. Bauer was the latest company to do so on Tuesday.
Hockey Canada also saw provincial organizations demand change in leadership, with groups like Hockey Quebec withholding registration fees to the national body.
Skinner, who was the interim chair of the board of directors, resigned on Saturday. Her predecessor, Brind’Amour, resigned in early August.
— with files from The Canadian Press