Hockey Canada's governance review by former Supreme Court judge called 'delay operation' by MP

Justice Thomas Cromwell is sworn in by deputy registrat Louise Meagher during a public ceremony at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Monday Feb. 16, 2009. Cromwell was officially sworn in as a Justice during a private ceremony in January. (CP)

Former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell will lead an immediate governance review into Hockey Canada, the federation announced on Thursday, but one member of Parliament criticized it for being a "delay operation."

The governance review, according to a Hockey Canada release, will focus primarily on whether the National Equity Fund was used inappropriately and whether the governing structure is the most appropriate for the organization -- including taking a look at its diversity and whether current executives are the right people for the job of overseeing Hockey Canada "from the grassroots level to the high-performance level."

NDP MP Peter Julian, a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that oversees some Hockey Canada funding, criticized the move.

"They’re ragging the puck," Julian told Sportsnet. "Hockey Canada keeps organizing and arranging these investigations, but the reality is nothing changes."

Julian added, given that Hockey Canada had not fully instituted previous recommendations by its law firm, that the move was a "delay operation" and "establishing yet another investigation that Hockey Canada leadership will ignore."

According to a release, Cromwell, in addition to serving as a judge for the Supreme Court of Canada from December 2008 to September 2016, chaired the Chief Justice of Canada’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters from 2008-18. Supporting him in the review will be Victoria Prince and Nadia Effendi of Toronto-based law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

Hockey Canada said the plan is for the Cromwell to provide interim recommendations in advance of its annual general meeting in November.

Cromwell, 70, was born in Kingston, Ont., and has law degrees from Queen's University (1976) and Oxford (1977). Having been nominated to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal by Jean Chretien and the Supreme Court by Stephen Harper, Cromwell had a reputation as being a centrist politically. He retired from the Supreme Court on Sept. 1, 2016, and joined Borden Ladner Gervais as counsel in February 2017.

Hockey Canada has been under fire for its handling of a settlement of an alleged sexual assault from 2018, as well as more recent allegations of a sexual assault in 2003 involving Canada's World Junior teams. Executives from Hockey Canada have appeared twice before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to answer questions about the handling of those allegations as well as a review of their leadership. In addition, minister of sport Pascale St-Onge has frozen Hockey Canada's funding until certain conditions are met.

"I think an independent governance review is always a positive step, provided that the report is made public and the process is transparent," Liberal MP and committee member Anthony Housefather told Sportsnet via email. Housefather added that he felt missing are clear reviews of "the board’s processes related to the recent settlement agreement" and "their actions related to matters alleging sexual misconduct or other similar claims."

Housefather also said that he doesn't believe this step should "serve as an excuse to do nothing" until November "to deal with the executives who have been involved in mishandling these issues."

Last week, Danielle Robitaille of law firm Henein Hutchison, retained by Hockey Canada in 2018 to conduct the organization's third-party investigation, told Parliament during a Hockey Canada hearing that she had obtained a statement from the woman and is equipped to move forward with the reopened investigation.

“This comprehensive governance review is a critical step to restoring trust with Canadians and ensuring we have the right people and systems in place to deliver on our Action Plan to improve Canada’s game,” Michael Brind’Amour, chair of the Hockey Canada board of directors, said in a statement on the governance review. “We have heard Canadians loud and clear and are committed to making the changes necessary to allow us to be the organization Canadians expect.”

Terms of reference for the governance review, per the Hockey Canada release:

Through the independent governance review, the Hockey Canada Board of Directors has retained the Honourable Thomas Cromwell to answer the following questions:

1. Was Hockey Canada’s use of the National Equity Fund to fund uninsured liabilities which were met by the Fund appropriate?
a) Is there appropriate oversight concerning payments out of the National Equity Fund?
b) Is the use of the National Equity Fund sufficiently transparent within the organization and in reports to stakeholders?

2. Are the organization’s By-Laws concerning the constitution and operation of the Board of Directors in line with current best practices, appropriate or require amendments? In addition:
a) Recognizing the Board’s current composition, are there recommended changes to the organization’s governance structure that would support and further enhance the diversity of the Board?
b) Are current terms and term limits aligned with best practices?
c) Does the nominating process need to be amended?
d) Is the structure of the various standing committees and task teams, including their Terms of Reference/mandates and reporting mechanism to the Board, appropriate?

3. Does the Board exercise an appropriate degree of oversight of senior management as compared to similar organizations, including:
a) Is the Board’s current structure, as a volunteer Board with accountability for oversight of the organization, appropriate and in the best interests of hockey in Canada?
b) Is there a clearly defined process describing what items staff must report to the Board (policy vs. operations)?
c) Is the reporting structure to the Board (staff and committees) comprehensive enough to ensure the work of Hockey Canada is efficient, effective, and of the highest quality?
d) What role should the Board play in operations versus policy and strategy?

4. Is the Senior Management Team properly structured and constituted to oversee the operations of Hockey Canada, from the grassroots level to the high-performance level?

5. In the area of governance, are there any other recommendations for actions that the Board of Directors and senior management could take to improve the confidence Canadians have in Hockey Canada?

--with files from Sportsnet's Emily Sadler

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