The House of Commons heritage committee has ordered another round of hearings into Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault claims, with past and present top executives and board chairs summoned to testify.
In a meeting Tuesday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage agreed to order Hockey Canada interim board of directors chair Andrea Skinner, former chair Michael Brind’Amour and former president and chief executive officer Bob Nicholson to appear at an Oct. 4 hearing.
This is the first time a member of the board of directors has been called to testify, and will also mark the first appearance by Nicholson. Current Hockey Canada president and CEO Scott Smith and Tom Renney, who preceded Smith and succeeded Nicholson in the roles, have testified in two previous hearings.
The committee held the first round of hearings June 20 after news broke of an alleged sexual assault involving players on Canada’s world junior team in 2018 after a Hockey Canada gala in London, Ont., and a hushed settlement between the organization and the complainant.
The federal government froze its funding to Hockey Canada two days later, and several corporate sponsors paused their support.
Hockey Canada came under further scrutiny when The Canadian Press reported that it had been using a reserve fund, built in part by hockey registration fees, to settle uninsurable claims including settlement of sexual assault cases.
A second allegation against members of the 2003 junior team surfaced July 22. Another round of parliamentary hearings was held July 26-27, with a multipartisan group of MPs calling for a change in Hockey Canada’s leadership.
Skinner took over as board of directors chair after Brind’Amour stepped down Aug. 6 before his term was set to end in November. Shortly after, Hockey Canada released a statement in support of Smith, who was the focus of much of the MPs questioning in the first two rounds of hearings.
Nicholson was chief executive officer of Hockey Canada from June 1, 1998, until June 1, 2014. He now serves as chairman for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
Hockey Canada’s leadership is currently under a review headed by Supreme Court of Canada judge Thomas Cromwell. which is expected to provide interim recommendations before its annual general meeting in November.
Smith has said he believes he deserves to lead Hockey Canada’s executive, but said he is “prepared to accept” the findings of the review.
Also Wednesday, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge criticized the wording of a survey sent by Hockey Canada to its members asking questions regarding its handling of the allegations.
The questions included whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the statement: “The level of criticism by the media toward Hockey Canada is overblown.”
“Asking if it’s the media that created this crisis when we’re talking about possible rape, multiple times, I think it’s underestimating the depth of the problem,” St-Onge told reporters in Ottawa.
Hockey Canada said Wednesday the survey was constructed to gauge sentiment and awareness of the issues facing Hockey Canada from members of the hockey community.
“Under no circumstances was Hockey Canada downplaying the challenges facing our organization, or the horrific allegations of sexual assault against former members of the national junior team,” the governing body said in a statement. “We have been very clear that we recognize we need to do better and are committed to making the changes necessary to foster a safe and positive environment for all participants on and off the ice.”
– With files from Mia Rabson