As It Happens·Q&A

Hockey Canada leadership change 'the right 1st step,' says women's sports advocate

By changing its leadership, Hockey Canada can finally start the long process of earning back Canadians’ trust, says Brenda Andress. The women's sports advocate and former commissioner of the Canadian Women's Hockey League spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

CEO and board of directors will all step down amid sexual assault scandal 

A woman with short blonde hair and glasses stands against a white wall with blue text, as several hands hold phones and recorders toward her.
Brenda Andress, former commissioner of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, is pictured here in 2017. (Radio-Canada)

A longtime advocate for women's sports says that by changing its leadership, Hockey Canada can finally start the long process of earning back Canadians' trust.

On Tuesday the national governing body for ice hockey in Canada announced its CEO and board of directors will all step down

The organization is under fire over its handling of widespread sexual assault allegations against its members.

Hockey Canada has confirmed it paid out $8.9 million in settlements to 21 complainants with sexual misconduct claims against its players since 1989. CBC's The Fifth Estate identified at least 15 cases of alleged group sexual assault involving junior hockey players that have been investigated by police in that time.

Brenda Andress is the former commissioner of the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), and she currently heads up She IS, a non-profit that promotes women's sports. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

I wanted to get a sense from you how you're feeling about today's resignations at Hockey Canada. Are they the game-changer that's needed here?

I think it's the right step in getting, I think, the … grassroots programs and all the volunteers [and] coaches to start to trust again.

It was just last week, you'll remember, the [then-] interim board chair of Hockey Canada, Andrea Skinner, was defending the organization in Ottawa, giving the CEO an A-rating [when] she was asked, you know, what kind of grade she would offer. And she was blaming "misinformation" and "unduly cynical attacks," as she put it.

So what do you think finally convinced them that the leadership had to change?

I think some key individuals. Hayley Wickenheiser, you know, an icon in hockey, came out and spoke specifically about wanting change. We had numerous other individuals. We had sponsors now coming in and saying: OK we've had enough.

Why do you think it took as long as it did?

Sometimes, you know, you become so strong as an organization, I think you think you can fix it internally.

You certainly love hockey. You know the game so well. You played as a teenager. You played with the Centennial College men's varsity team. You were a ref. You spent a dozen years as commissioner of the CWHL.

What have you been thinking as you've seen the headlines and see this story unfolding and the organization unravelling over these past few months?

I think it was sad for me to see an icon that I believe in so much fall in such a way, and losing the trust of all those young grassroots programs that are still yet to make their mark in our world.

It's been difficult, and I think it's been hard for a lot of us who have spent our entire life as volunteers in the hockey world, [to] see it come crashing down.

How does what you've been hearing, you know, fit in with the culture that you experienced first-hand within hockey?

I think this is one of the things that I'm hopeful that we very consciously spend time on in the next six months to a year, is that we find a safe place for staff, for players, all those individuals who are about to come forward with their experiences.

Because they will come forward. We've all seen it. We've all seen the culture of not just hockey, but many different sports, where abuse has happened, many different levels of self-esteem being taken away, and those people have been quiet and silent.

Unfortunately, we've made our children, our youth, believe that if they're great at something, there's no rules for them. And we've seen that there's no rules.- Brenda Andress, former commissioner of the CWHL

You were quoted as saying "Here's the code, don't break it, stick together" was kind of your understanding of what it was like, you know, in the hockey world. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you meant by that?

Unfortunately, we've made our children, our youth, believe that if they're great at something, there's no rules for them. And we've seen that there's no rules.

And I think that goes back to us not only stopping the silence, but ... [putting] rules and consequences in place for our children, our youth, to understand, to be a good person, to be somebody that represents the Canadian flag on their jersey, that there is a standard that has to be met ... and no matter what kind of a player you are, there's consequences.

If the culture was a certain way for so long, how do you see that being turned around?

Step one is exactly what just happened. You know, that we have seen that everybody is getting their voices together and saying this is unacceptable. Sponsors, the public, the provincial bodies, volunteers, coaches, players — they're all standing up and saying this isn't acceptable.

It doesn't change the culture, though, unless it comes now from the top down with the new CEO and new board members.... And it's got to start life by people saying at the top that they're sorry.

Composite illustration featuring Hockey Canada board members: from top left to right: CEO Scott Smith, Terry Engen, Kirk Lamb and John Neville. From bottom left to right: Barry Reynard, Bobby Sahni, Mary Anne Veroba and Goops Wooldridge. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press,

Who should be on this new board?

I think that it should be a diverse board. I think it should be people that have knowledge of hockey. I think it should be people that have knowledge of a not-for-profit group.

It should be people who have been involved in women's .. sports. I think it has to be people that have knowledge of the people who are going to feel unsafe.

Is it something you'd want to do?

I'm certainly going to think about it, because I've always said my entire life that I wanted to make a difference.

My dad used to say to me, like, "You know what, did you vote? No. Then sit down at the table. You can't say anything."

So I'm listening to his voice and my own voice that I've said to my own children over the time, you know: "If you're going to stand up and say something, you also need to stand up and volunteer."

Because, again, I really believe that in the next little while you're not going to hear less. I think you're going to hear more, as people start to come forward about what they've encountered or what's happened to them. And I think we really need to put something in place to protect them.

Hockey is still very important to us as Canadians. And there's still so many volunteers out there over all so many years that have given their time and have given resources and dollars towards this. And we can't forget those people.

I know you're a mom and a grandma. And if your grandkids want to lace up — maybe they already do — what are your conversations with them like right now?

Hockey gives a lot of rewards and we can't forget that.

We can't just say, "OK, you know, that's it for hockey." If my grandson was going to lace up his skates, which my fingers are totally crossed about, because I love the sport. I love what it represents. 

For the 10 per cent that is not good, there's 90 per cent that is good. And so we just need to focus on that 90 per cent and change the 10 per cent with … accountability, disclosure, setting up policies, you know, doing things, building trust, and by saying we're sorry.

With files from CBC News. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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