CEO Scott Smith, who came under fire for how Hockey Canada has handled allegations of sexual assaults by two Canadian world junior teams, has left the organization, it was announced Tuesday. All Hockey Canada board members have also agreed to step down “to make room for a new slate of directors.”
The announcement comes three days after interim Hockey Canada chair of the board Andrea Skinner tendered her resignation and within hours of Bauer announcing it was pausing its role as the official equipment provider to Hockey Canada’s men’s teams and its sponsorship of men’s tournaments.
“I think this is an excellent indication that Hockey Canada is better understanding that change is required and the only question would be who is on the interim management committee and what new board will be elected,” Liberal MP and Heritage committee member Anthony Housefather wrote in an email to Sportsnet. “But this seems to be a great step.”
With the CEO and board members now departed, day-to-day operations will be handled by an interim management committee, although who was on that committee was uncertain. Hockey Canada said in a release it will have new board members elected “no later than the forthcoming virtual election scheduled for December 17, 2022. The Board will not seek re-election and will fulfil its fiduciary duties until such time as a new Board is elected.” This new board will be responsible for choosing a new CEO.
“While we welcome this news, the interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change,” said Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge, in a statement. “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 develop not only exceptional athletes, but also good citizens who respect women, the public and the law.”
In a story published Tuesday morning in the Globe and Mail, Bauer CEO Ed Kinnaly said he was left unimpressed after an Aug. 31 meeting the company had with Smith and Skinner.
“They came across as trying to convince us that there were going to be blue skies ahead, but they didn’t have anything concrete to demonstrate their willingness, let alone a strategy, that would change the current dynamic,” Kinnaly said.
Added Bauer vice-president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier: “It felt a lot more like a PR plan than an action plan. It seemed more like self-preservation versus serving the Canadian people. … For us it was a complete disconnect in any openness to thinking about radical change.”
Two names mentioned by a source familiar with the operation of Hockey Canada as potential CEO replacements were former Team Canada members Danièle Sauvageau and Thérèse Brisson, both of whom have been mentioned in the past as good candidates to be the first female GM in the NHL. Sauvageau, 60, a long-time coach, was a member of the RCMP and the Montréal police force for 33 years. Brisson, 56, a former national team player who won six world championships and one Olympic gold medal, and is now the president and CEO of Alpine Canada.
While appearing at two Parliamentary hearings called to investigate Hockey Canada’s response to allegations of group sexual assaults by the 2003 and 2018 teams, Smith resisted calls by MPs from all four parties for his resignation.
“I’m prepared to take on this responsibility for change within our game,” Smith said during hearings in Ottawa on July 27, responding to a call to resign by committee member and Conservative MP John Nater. “I believe I’ve got the experience to do it.”
However, after a third hearing in Ottawa became contentious between Skinner and members of Parliament on the Heritage committee responsible for a portion of the organization’s funding, the calls for wholesale change grew louder.
Since last week’s hearing, almost all sponsors have permanently suspended further support of Hockey Canada, and eight provincial associations have suspended fee transfers and/or called for wholesale changes to the organization.
Smith, 55, had been with Hockey Canada since 1995, serving as vice president and chief operating officer. He took over on July 1 as president and CEO from Tom Renney, who left the organization in a previously decided retirement.
Previously, Smith, a native of Bathurst, N.B., served from 1991-95 as the executive director of the New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association. He has a degree in education from the University of New Brunswick.
Stepping down as board members: Terry Engen of Eckville, Alta.; Kirk Lamb of Calgary; John Neville of Markham, Ont.; Barry Reynard of Kenora, Ont.; Bobby Sahni of Toronto; Mary Anne Veroba of Lampman, Sask.; and Goops Wooldridge of Milton Station, P.E.I. Previous board chair Michael Brind’Amour of Montreal stepped down in August.
–with files from Sportsnet’s Paul D. Grant