The CEO and all board members of Hockey Canada have resigned, the nation’s governing body for amateur hockey announced today. The press release cites an “urgent need for new leadership and perspectives,” although only after many fits of stubbornness did Hockey Canada recognize that need.
In May, TSN’s Rick Westhead reported that a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight junior hockey players had dropped a lawsuit against the players after reaching a settlement with Hockey Canada. Shortly after the TSN story was published, Canada’s Minister of Sport ordered an audit of the organization, and Hockey Canada’s leadership was called before the House of Commons’ heritage committee for a series of hearings. This weekend, interim chair Andrea Skinner announced her resignation from Hockey Canada’s board, having spent the past two months poorly and unsympathetically representing the organization as it faces scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault.
“Upon reflection, it is clear to me from recent events that it no longer makes sense for me to continue to volunteer my time,” she wrote in a statement Saturday evening.
In the hearings, members of Parliament have questioned Hockey Canada’s management and its use of a financial reserve funded by player registration fees and set up to pay settlements for sexual misconduct claims. High-profile sponsors of Hockey Canada’s men’s hockey programs—including Scotiabank, Tim Hortons, and equipment provider Bauer (announced today)—have also suspended their partnerships. The Globe and Mail reported in August that Hockey Canada had quietly reached out to sponsors to ask what it would take to win them back. The answer, unfortunately for Hockey Canada, was making “wholesale changes to Hockey Canada’s operations,” a thing Hockey Canada seemed unwilling to do until now.
The most recent hearings, held last week, constitute the “recent events” Skinner mentioned in her resignation letter and likely prompted today’s mass resignation. In the video of her testimony, you can see each member of the committee shooting her a “No, no, dig up, stupid!” glare. From her opening statement, she mounted a weirdly staunch and tone-deaf defense of Hockey Canada and its leadership. Of particular offense to Skinner was the idea that hockey should be singled out by people trying to make sense of an ugly scandal in … hockey.
“Suggesting that toxic behavior 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 behavior, particularly against women,” she said.
There’s a generous way to read that argument, of course. But neither Skinner nor Hockey Canada have earned anyone’s generosity. And in the context of the hearing, her argument sounded less like holistic thinking and more like plain curiosity. Even granted that violence against women is a widespread problem, the insular nature of the sport and the way junior hockey is structured and promoted are both specific aspects of hockey one could question. If one cares, that is. Instead, all Skinner had to offer the heritage committee was some vaguely threatening musing about whether the sport could survive without Hockey Canada’s extremely important and powerful executives. Changes to leadership, she said, “would be very impactful in a negative way to all of our boys and girls who are playing hockey. Will the lights stay on at the rink? I do not know. We can’t predict that. To me, it’s not a risk worth taking.”
The Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, who has spent decades around Hockey Canada and said she has found his conduct “beyond disappointing” and “disgraceful,” pointed out in an interview afterwards that we very much can predict that. “What I know for sure is that hockey in this country, regardless of what happens in the boardrooms, it’s the grassroots. It’s the moms and dads, the volunteers, the people that (run) the Zambonis and the cafeterias in the rink that keep hockey going,” Wickenheiser said. “Regardless of what happens in the boardrooms, the lights will always be on in rinks across this country.”
Skinner’s testimony does make more sense if you imagine some kind of hamster wheel contraption rigged up so that terrible answers in parliamentary hearings power all the hockey rinks in Canada. Her finest “dig up” moment came as she continued to insist that sweeping changes to leadership were not needed. “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,” she said, before saying one of the more ridiculous things you can utter about an organization bleeding sponsors and conducting itself so poorly it needs to be defended before Parliament: “I appreciate that others disagree with us but our positions are based on the information that we have and an understanding that Hockey Canada has an excellent reputation.”
A new board will be elected in mid-December. Until then, all of Canada’s children will have to skate in the dark.