Hockey Canada governance review calls for more oversight, accountability

Hockey Canada finds itself "at a crossroads" that requires reimagined leadership coupled with more oversight and transparency, a third-party governance review has found.

The 221-page document released Friday following an independent probe led by former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell comes at a crucial time for the scandal-plagued organization on the heels of a disastrous spring, summer and fall.

"Confidence takes time to build, but can be quickly lost," Cromwell wrote in his introduction.

"Hockey Canada's recent experience is testament to that."

The report recommends new parameters for the board's nomination process, increasing its size from nine to 13 and ensuring that no more than 60 per cent of directors are of the same gender. A new election is set for next month.

It also maps out how Hockey Canada's National Equity Fund — which is maintained by registration fees and used to pay uninsured liabilities, including claims of sexual assault and abuse — should be managed moving forward.

"This report demonstrates what we already knew: Hockey Canada has not been transparent for years," Pascale St-Onge, the federal sport minister, said in a statement. "This shows serious governance failures that have been fostering a culture of silence. They treated the allegation of sexual violence as an insurance issue.

"Now, I am expecting that the new board make the necessary changes to create a healthy environment."

The sport's national federation has been under intense pressure since May when it was revealed the federation quietly settled a lawsuit after a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of the country’s world junior team, following a 2018 gala in London, Ont.

The federal government and corporate sponsors quickly paused financial support, but the ugly headlines continued with the revelation of the National Equity Fund and how it was used.

A Hockey Canada official testified to parliamentarians in July it had doled out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989, not including this year.

Police in London later said the force would reopen the investigation into the 2018 incident. The NHL is also conducting an investigation because many of the players from the 2018 world junior team are now in the league.

Hockey Canada then announced members of the 2003 men's world junior roster were being investigated for a group sexual assault, as calls for change at the top mounted.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Hockey Canada president and CEO Scott Smith resisted calls for his resignation before finally leaving the organization Oct. 11.

It was the same day the board of directors resigned in the wake of a stunning parliamentary hearing — the third time officials had been called to Ottawa since June — and the release of Cromwell's interim governance review.

"The complexity of the organization's leadership challenges have outgrown the responsive capacity of the present board recruitment and election processes," Cromwell wrote in his final report. "The current board nomination process has not provided Hockey Canada with the wide range, depth and diversity of experience, both professional and personal, that the board collectively requires to govern this complex organization and to lead significant cultural change."

Cromwell, who recommended minutes be taken at all Hockey Canada meetings in the future, added roles of senior management and the board "are not clearly defined nor distinguished."

"This, at times, leads to the board involving itself too deeply in day-to-day operations," the report read. "The reporting relationship, particularly regarding the transfer of key information, is informal and unstructured."

Cromwell, who interviewed more than 80 people, said Hockey Canada was right to have reserve funds — including the National Equity Fund.

"The establishment of reserve funds to address the risk of uninsured and underinsured claims is not only sound, but the failure to do so would be a serious oversight."

There was not, however, an appropriate level of supervision or transparency, he wrote.

"Hockey Canada has no written policy governing the (National Equity Fund)."

Cromwell recommended Hockey Canada provide "timely disclosure of publicly available information to its members regarding ongoing and potential claims."

Hockey Canada has said it has already taken action to implement recommendations outlined in last month's interim report.

Cromwell also painted a murky picture of how organizations, associations, leagues, teams and participants with different resources in different regions operate.

"A lack of clarity around organizational structure and authority can result in uncertainty," the report read.

While the scope of the review was on governance, Cromwell noted a number of issues raised throughout the process, including hockey’s "toxic culture" and additional support for women's and para hockey.

He added it's time those same stakeholders "reflect on their own roles and responsibilities."

"Some who have been quick to announce their loss of confidence in Hockey Canada have been slow to acknowledge their own past contributions to its troubles," Cromwell wrote. "The underlying causes of the current crisis are not of recent origin. The members have controlled who is on the board. Sport Canada, as recently as June 2022, gave Hockey Canada a top rating for some aspects of governance.

"It is not my role to point fingers or assign responsibility. I will simply observe that many could have done more to address the issues sooner."

Cromwell said it's his hope the governance recommendations provide Hockey Canada the capacity to play its role in "urgently needed" change.

"All stakeholders will have to work together to bring these changes about," he wrote.

"Hockey Canada is at a crossroads."

This report by The Canadian Press was first reported Nov. 4, 2022.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press