Hockey Canada announces CEO, entire board of directors will step aside
News comes as political and corporate pressure ramps up over organization's handling of alleged sexual assault
Hockey Canada has announced its entire board of directors and its CEO will step aside as the organization confronts widespread criticism over how it handled an alleged group sexual assault involving members of the 2018 men's national junior team.
In a media statement, the sports organization confirms that, effective immediately, chief executive officer Scott Smith is leaving.
The statement says that an interim management committee will be put in place until a newly constituted board appoints a new CEO to lead the organization.
A virtual election is scheduled for Dec. 17. Hockey Canada's statement says the current board will not seek re-election.
The interim management committee will focus on day-to-day operations, including reviewing and working with members and implementing a pending report on Hockey Canada's governance, the organization says in its statement.
The news was welcomed by federal Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge, who had been calling for a shakeup at the top.
"Their resignation, and the CEO's, is a step toward restoring Canadians' confidence in the organization. While we welcome this news, the interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change," she said in a media statement.
"Hockey Canada must develop not only exceptional athletes, but also good citizens who respect women, the public and the law. The case of Hockey Canada shows that the governance and leadership of national sport organizations determine the way cases of sexual violence, abuse and other forms of maltreatment are managed."
Andrea Skinner resigned as a director and interim board chair of Hockey Canada over the weekend — days after her controversial appearance before a parliamentary committee, during which she defended the organization.
In front of MPs, she described Hockey Canada as the victim and said her board doesn't believe senior leadership "should be replaced on the basis of what we consider to be substantial misinformation and unduly cynical attacks."
Major sponsors — including Nike, Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, Esso and Telus — responded by cutting ties with Hockey Canada permanently or by withdrawing funding for men's hockey this season.
St-Onge said she was frustrated with Hockey Canada's leadership following Skinner's committee appearance.
"I hope they understand the message and leave before they burn it to the ground," she said Thursday. "To renew this organization, it needs to be rebuilt."
Conservative MP John Nater, a member of the committee probing the Hockey Canada allegations, said it should not have taken this long for the executive to leave.
"But I am hopeful that we will finally see meaningful changes to the governance, organization and culture of Hockey Canada," he tweeted.
"There is still much work to do."
Resignations 'seemed inevitable': Hockey Quebec
As the country's national self-governing body for amateur hockey, Hockey Canada is responsible for managing and expanding hockey programs across the country at all playing levels — from the grassroots all the way to the World Championships and Olympics.
Before it became the focus of scandal, Hockey Canada received funding from the federal government — which has since frozen that funding. It also raised money through membership fees and provincial grants, and from grassroots fundraising and sponsorships — a pool that also has dried up.
Hockey Canada has 13 member branches; each branch represents a province or region in Canada, although there are exceptions. Ontario is represented by three different branches, B.C. Hockey oversees minor hockey in both British Columbia and Yukon, while Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are represented by Hockey North.
Hockey Quebec, which announced last week that it will not transfer funds to the national organization, said Tuesday's outcome "seemed inevitable to us."
"Now, it is essential to ensure that future directors take concrete steps to effect in-depth changes in terms of respect, integrity and culture," said a statement from the provincial body.
The Ontario Hockey Federation called the mass resignations "a good first step in addressing the challenges ahead."
"This is an incredibly important juncture in our game's history and it cannot be understated that trust needs to be rebuilt with Canadians, on and off the ice," said Lauren Maharaj, a spokesperson for the Ontario association.
B.C. Hockey said it would evaluate its role but will remain engaged with Hockey Canada going forward.
"Although there is public pressure to withhold registration fees to Hockey Canada, we feel it is more beneficial to stay focused on finding solutions to the issues while understanding the true impact of holding back fees," board chair Stephanie White said in an open letter.