Former Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson and current senior vice president Pat McLaughlin are to appear on Tuesday before Parliament as the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continues its probe into Hockey Canada.
The hearings, now part of a larger examination of Safe Sport in Canada, are intended to shed light on the organization’s response to sexual assault allegations, its handling of the lawsuit around an alleged incident in 2018 settled in the spring and the overall culture of the national federation.
The committee has held four hearings and has heard testimony from several members of Hockey Canada’s leadership and board of directors.
Since allegations of the group sexual assault against eight CHL players, including members of the 2018 Canadian world junior team, first came to light in May, Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny. In addition to losing government funding and seeing major sponsors cut partnerships, the organization’s use of registration fees in multiple secretive funds used to cover uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse allegations, and the emergence of allegations of two other incidents has all contributed to an overwhelming loss of trust in the national sporting federation.
Tuesday’s session, which can be streamed live, will run from 11 a.m. ET until 1 p.m. ET. Both witnesses will appear simultaneously via videoconferencing.
Nicholson, 69, was Hockey Canada’s president and CEO from 1998 until 2014, when he left for Oilers Entertainment Group and was replaced by Tom Renney. He was a senior vice-president when the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association merged with Hockey Canada in 1994. He is credited with fostering Hockey Canada’s successful business model by negotiating lucrative TV deals for tournaments, enhancing the women’s teams and programs, as well as building team chemistry in short periods of time, which most notably played out well with Canada’s drought-breaking Olympic gold medal win in 2002, and for building the World Juniors program into the success it has become.
Nicholson has also been with the IIHF as regional vice-president for the Americas since 2012, where he still has a heavy influence. Nicholson was in charge of Hockey Canada when the alleged 2003 incident in Halifax occurred, and will likely face questions specific to that. Given his role in building up Hockey Canada from humbler origins, he is considered to be the most widely known witness called by Parliament.
McLaughlin, 56, has been with Hockey Canada since September 2018. Believed to be among the highest-ranking executives at the organization after CEO/president Scott Smith’s departure, McLaughlin was a vice-president of brand for the Edmonton Oilers from September 2008 until May 2011, according to his LinkedIn page. As a player, he was a goalie for Mount Allison University.
What’s happened since the last hearing
Calls for change in leadership have grown louder over the months since the first hearing, reaching a fever pitch earlier this fall after the most recent committee hearing. During that meeting, then-interim Hockey Canada board of directors chair Andrea Skinner drew widespread criticism for her steadfast support of leadership and defence of the organization’s actions and culture.
Those calls for change have since been answered — at least in part — with the October announcement that Hockey Canada’s entire board of directors was stepping down. This development was preceded by the resignation of Skinner a few days earlier.
How the organization will now move forward, and who will be at the helm and in what capacity, has yet to be determined, but will be largely informed by the findings of the governance review conducted by Justice Thomas Cromwell. Through its findings, and those included in the interim report released in October, Hockey Canada has made several amendments to its processes of hiring and appointing leaders and limiting the terms of members of the board, as well as implementing measures to ensure a more diverse leadership group.
Postmedia reported Monday that Hockey Canada has lost $23.5 million in sponsorships since the scandal broke.
Several investigations are being conducted into the allegations connected to Hockey Canada.
The NHL announced in May it was launching its own investigation into the June 2018 allegations — an investigation that commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month is “closer to the end than to the beginning.” He did not provide a detailed timeline. The majority of the players on the 2017-18 Canadian world junior team were under contract with their respective NHL teams in June 2018. The IIHF is also conducting an investigation, although it’s not known where that stands.
In July of this year, Hockey Canada announced it was reopening its third-party investigation, conducted by law firm Henein Hutchison LLP. The firm’s investigation was initially launched in June 2018 but closed without reaching a conclusion in September 2020. During testimony before Parliament in July, Henein Hutchison partner and lead investigator Danielle Robitaille said the reopened investigation “is going well” and that she is “well-equipped to continue.” It is believed Robitaille’s report is either nearing completion or has been completed.
London Police Services reopened its criminal investigation, which was closed in February 2019 without charges, after an internal review of its initial probe determined there were “further investigative opportunities available.”
In July, Halifax police opened a criminal investigation into allegations of group sexual assault involving the 2003 Canadian world junior team at that year’s tournament in Halifax.
Additionally, Hockey Canada said in September it had referred a third sexual assault allegation to an independent third party to decide if it will be investigated. A Hockey Canada spokesperson told Sportsnet at the time that the organization “has not received a formal complaint.” None of the allegations have been proved in court.
–with files from Sportsnet’s Paul D. Grant