NDP critic calls for new Hockey Canada audit following claims of high-flying spending

·4 min read
An NDP critic is calling for an expanded audit of Hockey Canada's spending. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
An NDP critic is calling for an expanded audit of Hockey Canada's spending. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

NDP MP Peter Julian is pressing Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge to order a new federal audit of Hockey Canada's finances over the past six years in response to allegations that the sports body's directors availed themselves of high-cost hotels, dinners and jewelry.

Julian sent a letter to St-Onge on Tuesday regarding what he called "Hockey Canada's lack of accountability and transparency in managing their expenses."

Julian said a former Hockey Canada board member relayed to him insider information about the spending practices of the eight-member board of directors.

In his letter, Julian referred to board dinners that can "cost more than $5,000, presidential suites for board members that cost over $3,000 per night and gold and diamond rings for board members that cost over $3,000 each."

"As the minister who oversees Sports Canada and Hockey Canada, it is your responsibility to make sure that Hockey Canada uses government funds and hockey parents' registration fees in an accountable and transparent manner," Julian added.

The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith told a parliamentary committee in July that "the board of directors and our members from time to time have received a version of championship rings and there are some staff members who do have bonuses that relate to medal performance." He didn't disclose amounts.

Hockey Canada has been under intense public scrutiny since May over its use of a reserve fund — fed in part by players' registration fees — to settle a $3.5 million lawsuit alleging members of the 2018 World Junior team sexually assaulted an intoxicated woman.

The federal government froze the hockey organization's funding in June and has ordered an audit to show government funding wasn't used to settle the lawsuit.

When asked for comment by CBC News, Hockey Canada didn't refute the figures Julian quoted for hotels, dinners and rings.

The hockey organization said its board of directors is made up of volunteers who "donate their time and energy" and their expenses related to their duties — including "meetings, food and travel costs" — are covered by the organization.

"As volunteers, directors have received gifts, including as part of welcome packages when attending events or meetings from partners and sponsors," wrote Hockey Canada spokesperson Jeremy Knight.

When members of the board of directors visited the Northwest Territories in 2017, he said, they received traditional Indigenous footwear from Hockey North.

Knight said Hockey Canada issues credit cards to members of the board of directors which are connected to a "travel expense reporting system" and "are to be used strictly for pre-approved travel expenses."

Hockey Canada also confirmed Postmedia's report Tuesday that, for seven years, the organization owned a luxury two-bedroom condo in Maple Leaf Square in downtown Toronto reserved for the use of board members and staff. Hockey Canada said it sold the condo unit in 2017.

"We can confirm that the unit was purchased in 2010 to alleviate costs associated with staff and directors travelling to Toronto and was subsequently sold in 2017," Knight wrote.

Knight said a third-party governance review will examine this practice to "ensure" it's " in-line" with other national sport organizations of a similar size. Hockey Canada commissioned former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to conduct the review.

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press
Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

St-Onge's office said she already has called for a financial audit to determine whether public funds were used in Hockey Canada's settlement of an alleged group sexual assault in 2018.

The completion of the audit is one of three conditions the federal government set for Hockey Canada to get its funding back.

Financial statements obtained by CBC News show the hockey organization received $14 million in federal government support in 2020 and 2021, including $3.4 million in emergency COVID-19 subsidies.

In fiscal 2021, the $8.3 million in federal funding Hockey Canada received represented 13 per cent of its $62 million in annual funding. Sponsors and events supply about 50 per cent of the organization's revenue, says Hockey Canada's website.

An external firm is also conducting a routine financial review of Hockey Canada's expenditures reported to Canadian Heritage, its governance structure and its policies to manage harassment and abuse, St-Onge's office said. Samson & Associés is conducting that review.

A parliamentary committee is holding public hearings on Hockey Canada's handling of sexual assault allegations.

TSN reported last month that Julian planned to ask the former board member he spoke to — who he said wishes to remain confidential — to testify in-camera before MPs.