Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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Hockey Canada CEO, board resigns over sex abuse handling

Observers hail resignations as a good move after months of pressure but say more action is needed to tackle systemic violence.

The head of Hockey Canada and the organization’s entire board are stepping down as the sport’s national governing body faces increasing scrutiny and public anger over its handling of sexual assault allegations.

Hockey Canada has been under fire since news broke in May of an alleged gang rape of members of Canada’s junior ice hockey team in 2018 and a subsequent out-of-court settlement with the accuser.

“Recognizing the urgent need for new leadership and perspective, the entire Board of Directors has announced its intention to step down,” Hockey Canada said in a statement Tuesday.

It said an interim management committee would be set up to oversee the organization pending the appointment of a new chief executive by a newly constituted board following the departure of CEO Scott Smith.

Hockey Canada also said its members will be asked to select a new list of directors no later than the virtual elections scheduled for Dec. 17. The board will not seek re-election and will carry out its duties until a new board is elected.

Smith, who has served Hockey Canada in various capacities since 1995, said in July — less than a month after taking over as CEO — that he has no plans to step down from his position.

At the time, at a hearing in Canada’s parliament on the scandal, he said he was the right person to lead efforts for positive change in the sport across the hockey-loving country.

The allegations against the unnamed players have not been proven in court, but the Canadian federal government has frozen funding for Hockey Canada over its handling of the alleged sexual assault.

Since the news first broke, more allegations of gang rape have come to light, and Hockey Canada has announced that it has settled millions of dollars over the past three decades to nearly two dozen sexual misconduct complainants.

Canadian media recently reported that Hockey Canada had two slush funds to settle payments for victims of sexual assault.

Hockey Canada has announced it will no longer use a fund funded by registration fees from players across the country to settle sexual assault claims and also announced a full governance review.

Just last week, Hockey Canada’s interim chief executive, who resigned over the weekend, defended the current leadership of the national governing body while speaking during a parliamentary committee meeting.

But several provincial hockey associations recently said they were withholding fees normally paid to Hockey Canada over the scandal, while a number of key sponsors, including Nike and coffee chain Tim Hortons, severed ties with the organization.

Tuesday’s announcement was a “step to restore Canadians’ confidence” in Hockey Canada, Canadian Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a statement. “While we welcome this news, the Interim Management Committee must be made up of people who want to make real change.”

Jack Todd, longtime hockey columnist for the Montreal Gazette said on Twitter on Tuesday that “the departure of Smith and the Board of Directors of Hockey Canada is a start.”

Sheldon Kennedy, a former Canadian ice hockey player and coach sexual abuse survivor, said it is “not a holiday”, but “a critical moment for the game of hockey and Canadian sport”.

“We need an inclusive, respectful and safe ice hockey system at all levels across Canada,” he said in a statement.

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