Hockey Canada’s toxic secret has been revealed
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The start of a new NHL season brings excitement and optimism to Canadian hockey fans this week. Connor McDavid’s hat trick in Edmonton and the Canadiens’ spectacular win over the Leafs in Montreal last night are two quick examples of the joy that professional play can bring. Meanwhile, boys and girls from across the country are returning to the ice and reuniting with their friends on their own teams. Hockey is back. And it feels good.
At the same time, the darker side of the nation’s favorite sport was also painfully visible this week. On Tuesday, Hockey Canada announced that CEO Scott Smith and his entire board would step down, finally capitulating to months of pressure from sponsors, politicians and the public. Angry calls for the national governing body to clean up stemmed from its controversial handling of the $3.5million lawsuit of a young woman alleging a 2018 gang sexual assault involving players from the Canadian national team. junior world championships. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced the country’s frustration with the organization’s leadership when he said last week, « If these people continue to be deceived enough to think there is a way forward to continue to lead Hockey Canada, then Canadians will have no choice but to look for another structure to make our national winter sport work. »
WATCH | Hockey Canada Board and CEO resign under pressure:
The primary cause of Canadians’ outrage at Hockey Canada is its use of an opaque reserve fund – funded in part by children’s registration fees – to settle this and other lawsuits where Hockey Canada could not or did not want his insurance provider to cover payments to claimants. Excluding the alleged gang sexual assault lawsuit in 2018, which was settled this year for an unspecified amount, Hockey Canada has paid $8.9 million to 21 plaintiffs since 1989. About three-quarters of that money was related in the case of Graham James, the former junior hockey coach accused of sexually abusing players on his teams. Hockey Canada officials told a parliamentary committee that it took $7.6 million from the so-called National Equity Fund to make those payments, while the other $1.3 million came from insurance.
Following these revelations, Hockey Canada hired former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell to review both its governance structure and its use of the National Equity Fund. Cromwell’s final review is not expected until the end of the month, but an interim report was made available to the public today by Hockey Canada after CBC News published an article summarizing its key findings last night.
While the concept of a semi-secret pool of money to settle lawsuits might sound unsavory to many of us, Cromwell says there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, maintaining a fund to « address uninsured and underinsured liabilities is not only sensible…to fail to do so would be a serious oversight, » he writes.
The problem, as Cromwell details, is how Hockey Canada has managed the fund. For starters, he never told players and/or their parents that a portion of their entry fee was going to the National Equity Fund — let alone exactly how much (he found that $13.65 of the $20.80 insurance fee players would have to pay each year went there). There were also no policies and procedures in place to guide the use of the money. Additionally, while Hockey Canada is required to notify its members when new settlements, claims or judgments may cost more than $500,000, Cromwell identified six instances since 1999 where the organization failed to do so formally and verifiable.
WATCH | Hockey Canada’s use of funds to pay sexual assault claims is wrong: report:
The common thread here is the secret. That’s what sparked the initial moral outrage from parents of hockey players and politicians and caused all those corporate sponsors to abandon ship. It is now that Cromwell eliminates that lack of transparency in a colder, more mechanical way, detailing and detailing the exact nature of the shoddy nature of some of Hockey Canada’s practices.
The election of a new board has been postponed for a month, to December 17, so that everyone can have time to digest Cromwell’s full report once it is delivered. The fact that Hockey Canada released the preliminary report today and committed to implementing Cromwell’s recommendations for the fund « as soon as possible » are promising signs that the organization is interested in repairing its reputation and regaining public trust. But that’s a pretty low bar, and it will take a lot more changes to ensure that Hockey Canada comes out of the shadows for good. To learn more about Cromwell’s discoveries and next steps for Hockey Canada, click here. You can read Crowmell’s report here and read his note here.