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opinion

Rona Ambrose is the chair of the Women’s Business Council of Canada and a former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

I fully support the Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, in her view that Hockey Canada needs new leadership. I encourage her to be resolute in her approach to dealing with this damaged and broken institution.

To be clear, institutions can be reformed, but only with the right people leading them. I learned that lesson when I pushed for mandatory training on the handling of sexual assault cases for new, federally appointed judges (the requirement faced four years of parliamentary pushback before receiving royal assent).

The leadership of Hockey Canada has failed the victims at the heart of the devastating sexual assault allegations against players on the 2003 and 2018 junior national teams. As this story unfolds, there is a high potential for re-traumatization.

In creating two secret funds to cover the costs of sexual misconduct claims, Hockey Canada has also failed the thousands of families and athletes involved in their organization over the years. They have failed Canadians who have proudly cheered on Hockey Canada all over the world.

Hockey Canada’s leadership continues to show a lack of understanding of the complexities and sensitivities involved in handling allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Their actions reflect an insular, defensive and toxic approach to an issue that requires transparency, proactivity and compassion.

In a hearing held by Parliament’s Canadian heritage committee on Tuesday, board members made it clear they are not the right people to lead the change needed at Hockey Canada.

“Suggesting that toxic behaviour is somehow a specific hockey problem or to scapegoat hockey as a centrepiece for toxic culture is, in my opinion, counterproductive to finding solutions,” interim board chair Andrea Skinner said in her opening statement.

I don’t doubt that Hockey Canada’s leaders are well-intentioned people, but at this point, their approach is not good enough. They seem unwilling to recognize that the organization’s behaviour on these matters has affected the entire sport of hockey and goes well beyond the institution they are responsible for.

It also sends a damaging message to victims of sexual assault, who are already struggling with the shame and fear involved in coming forward to tell their stories and seek justice. If the leaders of Hockey Canada think maintaining their positions and defending their actions is more important than ensuring justice, sexual assault victims will effectively be told that what happened to them doesn’t matter.

We all want the same things: to find justice for survivors, to restore faith in the institution of Hockey Canada, to encourage victims to feel confident in coming forward, and to ensure kids and families across Canada feel proud to play their national sport.

To achieve that end, the current board should be fully reconstituted and the management should be replaced. And to be clear, the leadership of Hockey Canada should be eager and willing to do that, for the sake of everyone involved in the sport.

As a Canadian, a hockey fan, a mom, and an advocate for victims of sexual assault, I am disgusted that Hockey Canada’s leadership chose to protect predators with a secretive and unaccountable scheme, and that the organization’s current leaders continue to be tone-deaf to the consequences of these actions. It’s time for them to go.

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