MPs upset as Hockey Canada interim chair defends embattled CEO Smith at hearing 

A Hockey Canada logo is shown on the jersey of a player with Canada’s National Junior Team during a training camp practice in Calgary, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

OTTAWA — Amid frustration and repeated calls by MPs for a change in leadership, Hockey Canada’s interim chair of the board Andrea Skinner continued to stand by CEO and president Scott Smith before parliament on Tuesday.

Skinner told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that the Board “frankly does not share the view that senior leadership should be replaced on the basis of what we consider to be substantial misinformation and unduly cynical attacks.”

Skinner appeared as a witness for Tuesday’s Safe Sport in Canada hearing conducted by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Former chair of the board Michael Brind’Amour, who stepped down from the position in August and was replaced by Skinner on an interim basis, was also called as a witness Tuesday as the Committee attempted to understand the extent of the board’s actions since allegations emerged.

Skinner’s insistence that Smith remain in his post was met with disappointment and anger from members of the committee, who accused both witnesses of “stonewalling” some of the MPs’ questions.

“What we’ve seen is a further defence of the existing leadership at Hockey Canada, an unwillingness to make meaningful change within Hockey Canada to do what’s necessary to shift the culture and make it a safe spot for all participants, regardless of level, regardless of place in the country,” Conservative MP John Nater told Sportsnet following the hearing.

“Canadians should be angry, they should be upset that this culture is being allowed to continue with Hockey Canada without seeing meaningful change,” he said.

Said NDP MP Peter Julian: “I think most Canadians would just feel that Hockey Canada continues to stonewall rather than offering the responses that Canadians expect.”

More hearings will be held as the committee continues its probe into the organization. Nater said former CEO Bob Nicholson is among those summoned.

The committee previously heard testimony from several Hockey Canada officials on three other occasions over the past three months since allegations of group sexual assault emerged involving members of the 2018 Canadian national junior men’s hockey team in June of that year.

WHAT’S NEXT

More hearings will be held as the committee continues its probe into the organization. Bob Nicholson, the president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada from 1998 to 2014, has been invited by the committee to appear next, but the date has yet to be determined.

The committee has also broadened its investigative mandate to encompass all of sport in Canada, not just hockey, so hearings around other sports such as gymnastics and bobsled are in the works. The Heritage committee also confirmed on Tuesday that a full financial audit will be carried out into Hockey Canada’s operations dating back to 2016.

Other investigations and examinations around Hockey Canada: Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Sportsnet 650 Vancouver radio Tuesday that the NHL’s investigation into the 2013 incident is getting full cooperation and is almost finished interviewing the players; Justice Thomas Cromwell is reviewing the governance structure on behalf of Hockey Canada; London police continue to investigate the alleged 2018 incident; Henein Hutchison is in the final stages of its investigation into the 2018 incident for Hockey Canada; Halifax police continue to investigate the alleged 2003 incident; and an alleged third incident is being carried out by Ottawa-area lawyer Jennifer White. 

Hockey Canada’s annual board of directors meeting is scheduled for Nov. 18-19 in Ottawa, at which point a new board of directors is expected to be nominated and voted in. When asked by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh on Tuesday about whether she would be among those seeking re-election, Skinner was noncommittal.

“I’m focused on carrying out the balance of my term as long as I feel like I can be a positive voice for hockey and for change,” she told the committee. “I don’t know what my future plans are. I can tell you I joined the board to be part of meaningful and positive change and growth in hockey. I didn’t expect to be involved in politics. In some ways, this is a bit of a defining moment for me. I didn’t expect to be a lightning rod for extremists or receive threatening and hostile emails. I came here to be positive. I’m spending time away from my kids and my family and my job. So, the short answer is, I don’t know.”

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