Former Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson appeared before parliament on Tuesday as the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continued its study into the organization and how it has historically responded to allegations of sexual violence.
Nicholson, whose tenure at the helm of Hockey Canada began in 1998 and extended until 2014, expressed regret about some of his priorities during his time leading the organization — particularly with regards to off-ice conduct.
“I wish I could go back. I wish I could have put more policies in,” he told members of parliament on Tuesday. “My job as CEO was to really run the operations. Policies came from the board, and I’m not deflecting that back to the board — I was the CEO and I should have been encouraging more policies. And when I listen to yourself speak and others speak, it was something that I would have liked to have done. I didn’t and I’m sorry about that.”
As CEO, Nicholson oversaw the formation and maintenance of Hockey Canada’s funds. Some of these funds, reports have revealed, have been maintained in part by using player registration fees and used in part to cover sexual assault claims. Nicholson said he was not involved with the day-to-day details of those funds but that he took responsibility for them.
As part of their line of questioning, members of parliament asked Nicholson about the allegation of group sexual assault made against members of Canada’s 2003 world junior team during that year’s tournament in Halifax.
Nicholson, who was CEO at the time of the alleged incident, said he only first heard about the allegations this past July, at the NHL draft in Montreal, and has not been contacted by Halifax police.
Also appearing before Parliament on Tuesday was current Hockey Canada senior vice-president Pat McLaughlin, whose responsibilities at the organization extend to marketing and branding strategy, and planning.
McLaughlin stressed that Hockey Canada has heard the public outcries and outlined the organization’s progress over the past six months — including the resignation of executives and board members to make room for wholesale change.
Several MPs asked McLaughlin about the organization’s retaining of public relations firm Navigator. McLaughlin said that, to date, the organization had paid the firm $1.6 million for its services.
McLaughlin said none of the payments to Navigator used public funds. He also said that since the freezing of sponsorship funds from several major corporations, Hockey Canada has lost $24 million in sponsorship revenues.
He said that while Hockey Canada has made strides, there has been no notification of government funds being reinstated yet.
As for what happens next, one MP on the committee said it’s up to Hockey Canada.
“I appreciated the change in tone,” Liberal MP Chris Bittle told Sportsnet after the hearing. “I think we have to now wait and see what Hockey Canada does. It’s great to say that they need to take action. We need to see what that action is.”
–with files from Sportsnet’s Paul D. Grant