Hockey Canada execs, CHL president set to answer more questions from MPs next week

Hockey Canada COO Scott Smith, pictured here in 2019, was a witness before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage's investigation into the organization's handling of a sexual assault investigation and lawsuit. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Editor's Note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be distressing for some readers.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.

Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith and predecessor Tom Renney will be back in Ottawa next week as MPs continue to press the under-fire federation for answers about its handling of an alleged sexual assault and out-of-court settlement that has rocked the sport.

Smith, Renney, former Hockey Canada vice-president of insurance and risk management Glen McCurdie, and Canadian Hockey League president Dan MacKenzie are scheduled to testify in front of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage next Wednesday on Parliament Hill.

The same goes for the heads of the country's three major junior circuits — Quebec Major Junior Hockey League commissioner Gilles Courteau, Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch, and Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison.

Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since news broke in May it quietly settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges she was assaulted while intoxicated by eight unnamed players, including members of the country's 2018 world junior team, following a gala event in London, Ont., four years ago.

The temperature on the sport's national body turned up further this week when The Canadian Press was first to report it maintains a fund — the money is drawn from membership fees collected across the country — to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.

The detail was part of a July 2021 affidavit sworn by McCurdie as part of a lawsuit launched by an injured player in Ontario.

"Hockey Canada maintains a reserve in a segregated account to pay for any such uninsured liabilities as they arise,'' said McCurdie's affidavit, which goes on to state "uninsured liabilities include potential claims for historical sexual abuse.''

Hockey Canada confirmed it maintains a "National Equity Fund'' to cover a "broad range of expenses related to safety, wellness and equity initiatives.''

"The fund is also used to pay for the organization's insurance premiums and to cover any claims not otherwise covered by insurance policies, including those related to physical injury, harassment, and sexual misconduct,'' the statement read.

Hockey Canada added the fund was "established in a manner consistent with reserve funds maintained by other large national organizations.''

The revelation stunned Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was asked about both the fund and his confidence in the federation's leadership.

"I think right now it's hard for anyone in Canada to have faith or trust in anyone at Hockey Canada,'' he told reporters Tuesday.

"What we're learning is absolutely unacceptable.''

Barry Lorenzetti, president and CEO of insurance provider BFL Canada, and Hockey Canada Foundation chair Dave Andrews are also scheduled to testify before committee on Wednesday.

Danielle Robitaille of Henein Hutchison LLP — the law firm that conducted an incomplete third-party investigation for Hockey Canada in response to the alleged incident — is expected to appear Tuesday along with Minister of Sport Pascal St-Onge and officials from Sport Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Smith, Renney, McCurdie, MacKenzie, Courteau, Branch, Robison and Andrews will appear in front of committee under subpoena.

Smith, who's also Hockey Canada's president, took over for the retiring Renney as CEO on July 1.

Renney, Smith and Andrews testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last month after TSN first reported the alleged assault and settlement.

Parliamentarians were troubled by what they learned, including that Hockey Canada didn't make participation in its investigation mandatory, didn't know the identity of the players in question, and paid the settlement without having the full picture of what happened.

Smith testified "12 or 13'' of the 19 players were interviewed before Hockey Canada's original probe concluded in September 2020. London police closed their investigation in February 2019 without laying charges.

The woman was seeking more than $3.5 million in damages from Hockey Canada, the CHL and the players. Details of the settlement are not public, but Smith testified last month the organization liquidated investments to pay for the settlement.

"If you want real accountability from Hockey Canada, you should have demanded all players participate in the interviews (with the outside law firm),'' Conservative MP Kevin Waugh told Smith in committee last month.

"You own that — that is unacceptable.''

Bloc Quebecois counterpart Sebastien Lemire suggested in French that Hockey Canada is "John Doe No. 9 in this case.''

The fallout was swift.

Unhappy with what they heard, MPs called for this next round of meetings, a redacted copy of the non-disclosure agreement related to the settlement, and a long list of Hockey Canada communications.

Hockey Canada had federal funding cut off as the government awaits answers on accountability and transparency, while a number of corporations paused sponsorship dollars.

The federation released an open letter to Canadians last week that included a numerous of promises, including a pledge to reopen its third-party investigation — participation is now mandatory — and a full governance review.

"We have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 national junior team or to end the culture of toxic behaviour within our game,'' Hockey Canada wrote.

"For that we unreservedly apologize.''

The NHL is also conducting an investigation because many of the players are now in the league, but isn't making participation mandatory.

Some members of the 2018 world junior team have stated publicly they either weren't involved in the alleged incident or didn't attend the gala, including current NHLers Cale Makar, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Victor Mete, Conor Timmins, Taylor Raddysh and Jonah Gadjovich.

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