Canada

Election for Hockey Canada's board of directors postponed for a month

Despite mounting pressure on Hockey Canada to clean house, the next election for members of its board of directors is being delayed by a month, CBC News has learned.

The organization renewed its liability insurance for executives with a $1.9M annual premium

A Hockey Canada logo is shown on the jersey of a player with Canada’s National Junior Team during a training camp practice in Calgary, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Despite mounting pressure on Hockey Canada to clean house, the next election for members of its board of directors is being delayed by a month, CBC News has learned.

In August, the board of directors started talking about the need to change the narrative in response to intense public scrutiny of how it settled a $3.5 million lawsuit alleging a group sexual assault in 2018 involving members of the World Junior team.

"Hockey Canada is frustrated with the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the facts occurring in the public," said the board's meeting minutes from August, which were viewed by CBC News.

"Efforts need to be focused on our members and key stakeholders to provide them with accurate information."

At that same meeting in August, the board also talked about asking provincial hockey federations if it should postpone its election until the completion of a report Hockey Canada had commissioned on its governance structure, said the minutes.

Hockey Canada hired retired Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell this summer to conduct the governance review. The board said his report could require changes to the voting process, the minutes said.

"The timing of the Cromwell recommendation and start of nomination process is proving challenging," said the minutes from the August meeting.

The vote to elect a new board of directors was slated originally for November. It has now been delayed a month to December 17, Hockey Canada's website confirms.

In a statement, Hockey Canada said that an "independent nominating committee" supported by provincial hockey federations selected the virtual election date and issued a call for nominations last week.

Provincial and territorial hockey federations now have a copy of the preliminary report from Cromwell, which does recommend changes to the election process, Hockey Saskatchewan confirmed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated Friday he's had enough with Hockey Canada's leadership continuing to cling to office.

"If these individuals continue to be deluded enough to think there is a pathway forward for them to continue to run Hockey Canada, then Canadians will have no choice but look for another structure to run our national winter sport," he said.

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'Hockey Canada is frustrated with the misunderstanding'

Andrea Skinner, the interim chair of Hockey Canada's board of directors, was defiant in her defence of the organization's handling of group sexual assault allegations involving past junior hockey players when she appeared before a parliamentary committee earlier this week.

The hockey organization has been under intense public scrutiny since May, when a woman filed a $3.5 million lawsuit alleging that eight hockey players — including members of the 2018 World Junior team — sexually assaulted her while she was heavily intoxicated.

Skinner told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that toxic behaviour is a society-wide issue and it's "counterproductive" to use Hockey Canada as a "scapegoat."

Many MPs called her response arrogant and tone-deaf. Major sponsors — including Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire and Nike — have responded to the scandal by cutting ties with Hockey Canada permanently, or by withdrawing funding for men's hockey this season.

A CBC News Fifth Estate investigation last week found police have investigated at least 15 cases of alleged group sexual assault since 1989 – and half of those cases surfaced in the past decade.

Andrea Skinner, interim chair of the Board of Directors at Hockey Canada, appears virtually as a witness at a House of Commons committee on Canadian Heritage on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Abuse insurance premiums could go up

While Hockey Canada is insured against sexual assault claims, it maintained its own reserve fund — made up in part of hockey players' registration fees — to pay out on allegations it didn't want to run through its insurer.

The board of directors discussed in August the fact that its insurance costs could go up in response to the recent revelations.

"Hockey Canada may have to incur a higher deductible than anticipated on abuse coverage," the board's meeting minutes from August said.

The board also was advised during that meeting that "Hockey Canada's sexual misconduct coverage is rare in the sports industry and many [National Sport Organizations] have no such coverage," according to the minutes.

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Hockey Canada has had trouble in recent years finding insurers and keeping its premiums down, according to the minutes of a board of directors meeting in 2021 viewed by CBC News.

This summer, the board discussed several insurance policies that were up for renewal in September, including its liability policy for the board of directors and executives. The board renewed that policy with an annual premium of $1.9 million, according to Hockey Canada's meeting minutes from August.

Hockey Canada has not yet answered CBC's request for comment, submitted on Monday, asking if players' fees cover the $1.9 million premium.

Mary Kelly is a professor and chair in insurance at Wilfrid Laurier University's Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.

She said this type of liability insurance protects the personal assets of directors and officers in the event that they are sued personally for alleged wrongful acts in managing the company.

"Since the organization has admitted it has a responsibility to address toxic behaviours, both on and off the ice, the directors and officers can be held liable if there is a lack of corporate governance in addressing this issue," said Kelly. 

Federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge has said hockey culture suffers from a systemic problem of sexual violence and Hockey Canada needs a change of leadership.

"The leaders of Hockey Canada won't budge," St-Onge said in a statement sent to CBC News Friday.

"I think that if they really care about the sport, they will get out of the way and let it rebuild as the positive, inclusive environment it should be."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She earned the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct against senior military leaders. Her beats include transport, defence and federal government accountability. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

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