Andrea Skinner resigned as interim chair of Hockey Canada on Saturday amid controversy over the organization’s handling of sexual-assault allegations and its use of fees from parents and players to settle such lawsuits without disclosing how their money was used.
The move comes after federal hearings last week in which several MPs accused Ms. Skinner of being evasive and not answering questions directly about Hockey Canada’s response to the allegations.
Ms. Skinner, who joined Hockey Canada’s board in late 2020, was named to the interim chair role two months ago following the resignation of Michael Brind’Amour in the fallout of a sexual-assault controversy that has engulfed the organization.
“Upon reflection it is clear to me from recent events that it no longer makes sense for me to continue to volunteer my time as Interim Chair or as a Director of the organization,” Ms. Skinner said in a statement.
Hockey Canada has been under fire in Ottawa over its handling of an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2018 national junior team, following a Hockey Canada fundraiser in London, Ont.
The organization settled a $3.55-million lawsuit in May, filed by a young woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by several players. The organization settled the claim in a matter of weeks, for an undisclosed sum, without completing a full investigation into the alleged incident or requiring players to co-operate with its probe.
A parliamentary committee investigating Hockey Canada over the matter has called for the board and executives to resign, but the organization has steadfastly refused, saying they have created an action plan to address the problems.
At the hearings in Ottawa last week, MPs questioned Ms. Skinner over her support of Hockey Canada’s leadership team. After the hearings, major sponsors, including Nike, Scotiabank, Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons, pulled their support.
In a statement Saturday night, Hockey Canada’s board said it was meeting this weekend to discuss next steps.
“As a Board, we wish Andrea well and would like to thank her for her service to Hockey Canada. We will continue to meet over the weekend to discuss other changes and reforms to the organization.”
A Globe and Mail investigation last week revealed Hockey Canada created a second multimillion-dollar fund, built by registration fees, to shield its various branches from sexual-assault claims, without disclosing to parents and players how their money was ultimately being used.
Revelations of the second fund, known as the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, followed a Globe investigation in July that first revealed that Hockey Canada used a financial reserve called the National Equity Fund, also fed by registration fees, to settle the lawsuit surrounding the 2018 allegations. Parents and players across the country have expressed outrage that their fees were used in the settlement.
Following the Globe investigation last week, Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said Hockey Canada treated sexual assault as an insurance problem rather than a systemic issue that should be addressed within the organization.
Several MPs criticized Ms. Skinner over Hockey Canada’s use of the National Equity Fund, as well as its creation of the Participants Legacy Trust Fund. The Globe investigation showed the latter was formed using $7.1-million from the National Equity Fund, “for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse,” according to documents filed in Alberta court.
“There is no doubt that Hockey parents across the country want answers from Hockey Canada,” NDP MP Peter Julian told Ms. Skinner. “They scrimp and save to register their kids in Hockey Canada programs. And the revelations, both the allegations of sexual violence and sexual abuse and how that is handled within Hockey Canada, but also the complete lack of financial transparency is profoundly disturbing to Canadian hockey parents. And it’s profoundly disturbing to the Canadian public.”
Hockey Canada had not disclosed to the committee at hearings in June that it used the National Equity Fund to pay the settlement. Though it moved quickly in June to reassure the government and sponsors that no federal or corporate money went toward paying sexual-assault claims, it did not reveal to the committee – or to the public – that player registration fees were used.
MPs criticized Hockey Canada and Ms. Skinner for withholding key information from the hearings.
Conservative MP John Nater also read aloud meeting notes from Hockey Canada’s board, in which the organization and a crisis communications firm, Navigator, devised a strategy to shift the message with the Canadian public, put a positive spin on the payments and push back against the media.
According to the meeting minutes, which Hockey Canada was ordered to turn over to the committee, the organization “was encouraged to get the message into the public, get ahead of communication and shift the narrative.”
Facing criticism for not disclosing the use of player registration fees in sexual-assault claims, Hockey Canada wanted to shift public perception by saying, “the National Equity Fund is in place to protect children and our programs, and to take care of any victims. Settlement payments must be viewed in a positive manner, not in a negative manner.” The strategy involved Hockey Canada’s leaders and spokespeople repeating such statements over and over to the public. “Repetition is required to state the narrative,” the notes say.
Ms. Skinner told the hearings the second fund had been misconstrued in the media, but gave no evidence as to how it was misrepresented, drawing accusations from MPs that Hockey Canada was trying to muddy the waters and deflect criticism from itself. She then went on to confirm, as The Globe reported, that the trust was indeed created using $7.1-million from the National Equity Fund.
She then confirmed further details of The Globe article, including that the trust had not been used to cover a claim, but was in place to address possible future claims, and that it was related to the period prior to 1995, before Hockey Canada began buying insurance for sexual assault. She also confirmed that Hockey Canada believes more claims are possible from that era because sexual-assault claims can be filed many years after the fact, which had also been reported in the investigation.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather suggested Hockey Canada was misleading the public by saying reports of the trust were inaccurate. He read directly from Hockey Canada court documents at the hearing, questioning her on their contents.
The sudden exodus of sponsors is unprecedented for Hockey Canada. Several brands, such as Scotiabank, Tim Hortons and Esso, said they were pausing their support for all men’s hockey events for 2022-23, including the upcoming world junior hockey championships in Halifax and Moncton. Others, including Canadian Tire and Sobeys, have halted their support of the organization permanently.
Several provincial hockey associations also called for change at Hockey Canada following the hearings, with some refusing to send registration fees to the organization in light of the controversy. The mayors of Halifax and Moncton also issued statements after the hearings distancing themselves from the organization. “We are deeply concerned about Hockey Canada’s lack of judgment and professionalism,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said in the joint statement.
In resigning, Ms. Skinner thanked Hockey Canada.
“I am grateful to the Members of Hockey Canada for electing me to the Board of Directors and providing me with the opportunity to make positive change for our game and for Hockey Canada,” her statement said. “I stepped into the position of Interim Chair of the Board two months ago for the same reason.”
MPs on the committee, from all federal parties, have called for wholesale resignations, saying the organization has lost trust. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that if the executives and board continue to dig in, Ottawa could potentially look at creating an entirely new organization under a different name to oversee the sport.