Hockey Canada review says organization 'at a crossroads'

Hockey Canada finds itself “at a crossroads” that requires reimagined leadership coupled with more oversight and transparency, according to a third-party governance review released Friday.

The 221-page document follows an independent probe led by former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell, and comes at a crucial time for the scandal-plagued national sport organization on the heels of a disastrous year.

In May, it was revealed Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit after a woman said she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of the country’s world junior team, following a 2018 gala in London, Ontario.

The federal government and corporate sponsors quickly paused financial support, but the ugly headlines continued with the revelation of a secretive National Equity Fund — partly maintained by registration fees — used to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.

“Confidence takes time to build, but can be quickly lost,” Cromwell wrote in his introduction of the report. “Hockey Canada’s recent experience is testament to that.”

A Hockey Canada official testified to parliamentarians in July that the organization had doled out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989 — not including this year’s payout.

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. None of the allegations from 2003 or 2018 have been proven in court.

Hockey Canada president and CEO Scott Smith resisted calls for his resignation, but left the organization Oct. 11, the same day the board of directors resigned.

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

“The complexity of the organization’s leadership challenges have outgrown the responsive capacity of the present board recruitment and election processes,” Cromwell wrote. “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 also recommended minutes be taken at all Hockey Canada meetings moving forward, 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. “Moreover, the reporting relationship, particularly regarding the transfer of key information, is informal and unstructured.”

Cromwell, who interviewed more than 80 people in over 60 meetings for the report, said Hockey Canada was right to establish reserve funds — including the National Equity Fund (NEF). But said there wasn't appropriate oversight or transparency over the fund.

Cromwell recommends Hockey Canada provide “timely disclosure of publicly available information to its members regarding ongoing and potential claims.”

Hockey Canada says 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 and different regions operate.

While the scope of the review was on governance, Cromwell noted a number of issues raised by stakeholders throughout the process, including hockey’s “toxic culture.” Cromwell also said those same stakeholders should “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,” he wrote. “The underlying causes of the current crisis are not of recent origin.”

Cromwell concluded that it’s his hope the governance recommendations provide Hockey Canada make “urgently needed” change.

“All stakeholders will have to work together to bring these changes about,” he wrote. “Hockey Canada is at a crossroads.”

The Associated Press