What’s next for Hockey Canada?: ‘Canadians need to see action’

Paul Grant and Kyle Bukauskas dissect the crucial points of the fourth round of the Hockey Canada hearings and what they expect to come from the hearings down the line.

OTTAWA – Coming off what many committee members characterized as the first positive hearings in Parliament’s Hockey Canada investigation, the next steps are up to Hockey Canada itself, according to one MP.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continued its study into Hockey Canada and how it has historically responded to allegations of sexual violence with its fourth series of hearings here on Tuesday.

Witnesses Bob Nicholson, the former CEO and president of Hockey Canada and largely considered to be the architect of its success, and Pat McLaughlin, Hockey Canada’s current senior vice-president of strategy, operations and brand, appearing via videoconferencing, came across as apologetic and cooperative.

This was in stark contrast to previous hearings, where Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith and interim chair Andrea Skinner appeared defensive and, in the eyes of some MPs, combative during their testimony. Smith and Skinner left Hockey Canada shortly after their appearances, and the entire board of directors resigned after the hearings in October.

“I appreciated the candor,” Liberal MP and representative of St. Catharines, Ont., Chris Bittle told Sportsnet. “We’ve been at this for six months now. And I was incredibly disappointed after hearing from Miss Skinner last time. I appreciated the change in tone. 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.”

Bittle said the hearings, which were recently broadened to include investigations into all sport in Canada, not just Hockey Canada, could be busy with other matters in the short term.

“My hope is that the committee pivot, if that’s the will of the committee, to continue, and I think it should. We need to hear from other other sports organizations, such as Gymnastics Canada, we need to hear from experts, we need to hear from people who’ve been involved, people have been hurt by these organizations because in terms of Canadians’ trust in Hockey Canada, I don’t know if there’s anywhere left to go,” he said. “And I think all (political) parties have done a very good job at showing what’s going on at Hockey Canada, but my worry is there’s so many sports organizations out there that no one has peeked into. And it’s time to put some sunlight on that.

“But at this point, I don’t even think we’re in a position to offer recommendations.”

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Bittle said his hope was that the committee, after moving through reviewing Bill C-18 and Bill C-11, both of which pertain to online regulation, hear from more experts on what’s happening in Canada broadly around athletics.

Specifically, he said the committee would want to hear from athletes, academics, coaches and others involved in sports to come up with recommendations “so that we can really have a better sense to hold Hockey Canada to account and other sports organizations. Because, unfortunately, it’s not just Hockey Canada. I would like to think that it is, but we know it’s not.”

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In Bittle’s line of questioning on Tuesday, he cited the Mitchell Miller situation in the NHL, in which the Boston Bruins signed the free-agent defenceman who had bullied a disabled Black youth when the two were schoolmates. Bittle used the Miller signing as an example of a lack of consequences for actions, and made a direct connection to what happened with members of the men’s 2018 Canadian world junior team having a settlement brokered on their behalf for an alleged incident in June 2018.

No charges have been laid by London, Ont., police in that incident. An incident in 2003 in Halifax, allegedly involving members of Canada’s world junior team, is also being investigated. None of the allegations have been proved in court.

“If Hockey Canada is going to keep going, Canadians need to see action, they need to see their confidence restored,” Bittle said. “And the only way to do that is by moving forward on what they say they’re going to do, is to restore that confidence to hold people to account, like my line of questioning, is you have a number of athletes involved.

“If all of these actions take place and there are no consequences, they will continue. And so I think that that is a big worry for Canadians. There needs to be consequences for actions. There needs to be transparency at Hockey Canada. It seems like they’ve gotten the message but, again, we need to see what the action is.”

Hockey Canada is expected to nominate a new board of directors and potentially consider new candidates for CEO at its next annual general meeting, which has been postponed until Dec. 17.

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