Manitoba

Hockey Manitoba withdraws support for Hockey Canada leadership amid sexual assault scandal

Hockey Manitoba on Thursday reversed its decision taken months ago to defend Hockey Canada, but stopped short of cutting ties with the organization, as was done by Hockey Quebec on Tuesday. 

Announcement represents a sharp pivot from executive director's stance in August

Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods previously told CBC he was comfortable with the direction Hockey Canada was going, even as evidence surfaced about its mishandling of multiple sexual assault allegations. Hockey Manitoba changed its position on Thursday, calling for a change in leadership of the national body. (CBC)

Hockey Manitoba has withdrawn its defence of Hockey Canada over a sexual assault scandal that's been simmering for months, but stopped short of cutting ties with the organization, as has been done by several sponsors and at least one other provincial affiliate.

The board of directors of Hockey Manitoba issued a statement Thursday supporting the call by members of Parliament for change in the leadership of Hockey Canada. 

The organization also called for "a review of the Hockey Canada Action Plan to include consultation from experts or organizations working in education, awareness and prevention of sexual violence, abuse, bullying, and discrimination."

Hockey Manitoba joins the chorus of voices — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who have spoken out or taken a position regarding Hockey Canada this week, following new new allegations against the governing body. 

On Wednesday, Trudeau said the actions and attitude of Hockey Canada "boggles the mind."

In August, after the details of the sexual assault controversy were exposed at the national level, with Canada's minister of sport chastising Hockey Canada for keeping her out of the loop, Hockey Manitoba's executive director Peter Woods defended the national body's leadership in a conversation with CBC Manitoba Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. 

"I believe they have the right people that are leading this organization, that have a great deal of experience in the hockey world, and I'm certainly comfortable with the direction that they're going in right now," Woods said. 

"I think Hockey Canada has recognized that they've made some errors, they've acknowledged some mistakes that have been made throughout this process, and they're trying to correct those. They've put together a very strong action plan."

Not as far as Quebec 

Thursday's statement from Hockey Manitoba stops short of cutting ties with the organization as was done by Hockey Quebec on Tuesday.   

The Quebec organization says it will stop monetary contributions to the national organization — a move that was commended by Canada's federal minister of sport, Pascale St-Onge. 

 "I think the decision that Hockey Quebec took shows that reform [is] being engaged. It also sends the message to the leaders at the organization that are holding on to their jobs that Hockey Canada doesn't belong to them, it also belongs to their members and they want change," St-Onge said Wednesday.

Support from hockey community

Dan Barnes, a parent of a child who plays hockey in Winnipeg, said Hockey Manitoba made a "good call" in urging a change in the leadership of Hockey Canada.

Barnes said Hockey Canada's response was inadequate. 

Dan Barnes says his son has been playing hockey in Winnipeg for several years. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"It doesn't show respect for the people that it's happened to and that it could happen to you in the future," Barnes told the CBC in an interview at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Thursday evening. 

Barnes said he thinks the position taken in Quebec to cut funding is important. 

"We work hard to support our kids and their activities and you know, we want to know that our funds are going toward something good and that's not how I feel right now," he said. 

Jeff Memka, who coaches youth Hockey in Winnipeg, said he supports Hockey Manitoba's decision, as Hockey Canada's handling of the situation left more questions than answers. 

"Whether you like it or not, we live in an age of transparency and it seems like since this news broke, Hockey Canada hasn't really been that open with what has happened and how it was handled," Memka said. 

Jeff Memka coaches youth Hockey in Winnipeg. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"It creates a lot of additional questions and it kind of gives it a bit of a sinister feel."

Memka said he thinks a review of the funding model may be appropriate in the future, but would consider it "pretty harsh" at the moment, in light of the potential impact it might have on the ability of children to play the sport. 

"While some adults made some pretty big mistakes, I don't necessarily think that all these kids should suffer from that," he said.

No reason and no comment

The statement from Hockey Manitoba did not provide a reason for its change in position. 

It failed to outline whether the Manitoba organization considered cutting ties with Hockey Canada and why it decided against the move. 

The statement also made no mention of whether Hockey Manitoba will continue contributing financially to the organization.

The organization said it will provide no additional comments until after "further developments unfold on the national scene, namely the thorough review of the upcoming report from the Honourable Thomas Cromwell C.C., along with further attention to the situation being addressed around Hockey Canada leadership and the Hockey Canada Action Plan."

Also on Thursday, Skip The Dishes, which is headquartered in Winnipeg, said it will also end its partnership with Hockey Canada, saying it's "deeply troubled" by recent allegations.

Skip was the official food delivery app for Hockey Canada. 

Scotiabank and Pepsi paused their sponsorship of Hockey Canada in June. Other major sponsors who've since cut support include Tim Hortons, Telus, Canadian Tire, and Sobeys.

Tone-deaf to the issues

University of Winnipeg sports scientist Sandra Kirby described the situation as "a bit of contagion spreading," starting with Quebec and moving across the country. 

"It's a very big issue and they've handled it in my estimation very badly," she said. 

Sandra Kirby, a former Olympic rower and University of Winnipeg professor who has done extensive research on the problem of abuse in sports, says Hockey Canada doesn't appear to understand the need to protect victims and change hockey's culture. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Kirby says the position taken by Hockey Manitoba and others this week is "a vote of non-confidence" against the leadership of Hockey Canada, showing widespread opposition to their direction of the organization and statements about the situation. But she said she's worried Hockey Canada's leaders may still not see the danger of not altering their course. 

"People walking away, sponsors walking away, has to hurt Hockey Canada," she said. 

"What I'm afraid of is that they're tone-deaf to this issue. They've shown several times … they don't get what the issue is around sexual assault and about protecting victims and about changing the culture," Kirby said., 

It's a sentiment similar to the one expressed Thursday by St-Onge, who said she hopes "they understand the message and leave before they burn it to the ground."

Kirby said a new hockey organization is needed to solve the problem. 

"The same organization cannot come back. I don't think we want these people and this organization," she said.

"They don't get the breadth and the depth of what they're talking about."

Trudeau, sport minister call for Hockey Canada leadership change

4 months ago
Duration 8:50
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge have thrown their support behind Hockey Québec's decision to cut ties with Hockey Canada following new allegations against the sporting body.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Wildes is a reporter at CBC in Manitoba. You can reach him at andrew.wildes@cbc.ca.

With files from Austin Grabish

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