The Standing Committee on Heritage conducted another day of hearings related to Hockey Canada’s ongoing sexual violence and hockey culture scandals. Facing the committee Tuesday were former chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors Michael Brind’Amour and current chair Andrea Skinner.
In the most recent hearing, which took place in late July, members of Parliament and Canada’s Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge called for new leadership within Hockey Canada and learned details of the National Equity Fund used to pay sexual assault claims. On Monday, the Globe & Mail reported on a second fund, the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, which was also created “for matters including but not limited to sexual abuse.”
In media Monday, St-Onge pointed to Hockey Canada’s lack of transparency, a critique that continued Tuesday from members of Parliament.
“The transparency has not been forthcoming, and I believe Hockey Canada can do much better,” NDP MP Peter Julian stated during the hearing. Standing Committee chair Hedy Fry echoed Julian. “I have heard questions being asked, I have not heard a lot of the answers being given,” Fry said.
At times in the testimony, Skinner pointed outside of Hockey Canada and hockey in general to what she deemed a broader, societal issue.
“Suggesting that toxic behaviour is somehow a specific hockey problem or to scapegoat hockey as a centerpiece for toxic culture is in my opinion counterproductive to finding solutions and risks overlooking the change that needs to be made more broadly to prevent and address toxic behaviour, particularly against women,” Skinner said. Skinner also condemned media’s portrayal of reports related to the Participants Legacy Trust Fund. “I believe that the reports that have circulated in the media do not accurately reflect the situation with respect to the Participants Trust Fund.”
In the hearing it was reported that Hockey Canada moved $7.1 million in 1999 transferred from the existing National Equity Fund, used to pay historic sexual assault claims, to the Participants Legacy Trust Fund, although Skinner stated the fund has not to date been used to settle a claim.
Throughout the hearing, the “contradiction”, as several members of the Standing Committee called it, between Hockey Canada’s views and testimony, and the views of members of Parliament, media, and the public became a common theme. Much of this related to what MP’s perceived as Hockey Canada’s attempts, through their recent survey, advertising, and messaging, to shift focus away from the issues.
“I find this deeply troubling that the organization is more concerned about shifting the narrative than actually meaningfully implementing change,” Conservative MP John Nater stated, referencing board meeting minutes directing the organization to “get the message into the public, get ahead of communication and shift the narrative,” related to the National Equity Fund. “We are a family and we need to push back hard, need to start defending and stop sitting in the neutral zone,” another reading of Hockey Canada minutes stated.
When addressing this messaging, Bloc Quebecois MP Sebastian Lemire called Skinner’s redirection “ironic”, pointing to Hockey Canada’s survey distributed to members which asked respondents to rate how much they agreed with the statement “the level of criticism by the media toward Hockey Canada is overblown.”
“I find it ironic that you say that the media misrepresented things because that is also what was said in the poll that you used to perhaps try and change public opinion,” Lemire said.
The “discrepancy” in perceptions was further highlighted in Brind’Amour and Skinner’s adamant defence of Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith, who Skinner gave an “A” grade to for his handling of this scandal. Skinner also stated, “Our board frankly does not share the view that senior leadership should be replaced on the basis of what we consider to be substantial misinformation and unduly cynical attacks.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather replied to Skinner’s comments saying, “There is a clear discrepancy between how the leadership of Hockey Canada views the management of Hockey Canada and how this committee of all parties and the Canadian public views the leadership of Hockey Canada and that I think is diagnosing the real problem we have before us today.”
MP’s continued to express their frustration about transparency. At one point, Conservative MP John Nater had to remind Brind’Amour that he was under oath, and needed to answer his “yes or no” question about Brind’Amour’s trust in CEO Scott Smith.
“You’re a witness under subpoena, under oath, and I know there isn’t a judge in front of you, but I guess this is shocking and it really speaks to, again, how Hockey Canada and its leadership views this proceeding and how its taken part in past actions it’s truly troubling that you would dismiss and dismiss us, we have the same powers as a court, we’ve brought you here under summons, and this is truly disappointing.”
The hearing itself ended on a similar note with little new information discovered, and perhaps more questions created moving forward. In her closing remarks, Standing Committee on Heritage chair Hedy Fry admonished Skinner, Brind’Amour, and Smith stating, “I’m really quite distressed to hear that the current leadership that has been at the helm since all of this has been happening should be kept because it’s a grade A team. I don’t believe that we have come to any kind of conclusions from these because we have no had any kind of sense of responsibility, blaming everyone else does not mean there’s a sense of accountability.”
With questions left unanswered, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will likely schedule another hearing in the coming weeks.
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