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Who's who and key agents of change in the Hockey Canada investigation

Hockey Canada, and hockey in Canada, are facing serious changes.
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Hockey logo. Photo/Hockey Canada

The investigations into an alleged incident after an off-season event in London, Ontario in 2018 have brought a reckoning about the operations of Hockey Canada. Since then, the situation has only grown more complicated, with new allegations arising, including one about an incident at the 2003 World Junior Championship in Halifax.

Hockey Canada, and hockey in Canada, are facing serious changes.

Here are the principal individuals and parties involved in the alleged incidents, the investigation and its fallout, and the key agents of change:

E.M.: On April 20, a woman filed a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court in London, Ont., saying she was sexually assaulted by eight players after a Hockey Canada Foundation event on June 19, 2018. The woman did not name the players, some of whom were part of the 2017-18 Canadian world junior roster, referring to them in the statement of claim as John Does one to eight. (The matter has not been heard in court.) She also kept her identity private and is identified in court documents as "E.M." After news broke in May of Hockey Canada's settlement of the lawsuit, Hockey Canada officials testified that E.M. hadn't participated in its investigation. However, her attorney, Rob Talach, later clarified that his client met with a detective within days of the alleged incident and underwent a physical exam at a hospital on June 22, 2018, gave clothing to police and talked to police again on June 26, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2018. Talach added his client wanted, in the days after the alleged incident, criminal charges laid and has also participated in subsequent investigations, submitting an eight-page statement, plus photos and texts. He said his client has passed a polygraph exam, the result of which was to be sent to Hockey Canada, the National Hockey League (NHL) and London police. E.M. told the Globe and Mail she didn't originally intend to draw attention to the allegations, but “I simply wanted consequences for actions and some accountability,” she said. There is no bigger agent of change in this matter than E.M.

2018 Canadian world juniors team: Of the roster's 22 players, 19 attended the Hockey Canada Foundation Gala & Golf at the London Hunt & Country Club and Red Tail Golf Course. Jordan Kyrou, Victor Mete and Kale Clague issued statements saying they were not in London for the event. Twelve of the remaining 19 attendees have issued statements saying they were not involved, had no knowledge of the incident, participated in the investigation and/or admitted no wrongdoing.

John Does one to eight: Fifteen of the team's 22 players have issued statements to Sportsnet or via social media disavowing any knowledge of the alleged incident, denying any involvement and/or promising to participate in any investigations. A Western Law professor told Sportsnet that public statements aren't sworn evidence, so perjury isn't a threat. Statements could be used, however, to call attention to a player’s credibility if they were asked whether they participated or knew of the incident under oath and answered differently. Danielle Robitaille, lead investigator for Hockey Canada law firm Henein Hutchison, said during testimony on July 26 that nine players had not participated in her investigation, citing the then-ongoing London police investigation. Robitaille said she had also interviewed seven coaches and members of the training staff, and added that players who don't participate in her investigation face a lifetime ban by Hockey Canada.

London Police Service: According to testimony by former Hockey Canada vice-president of risk management Glen McCurdie, he called London police about the alleged incident at 6:44 p.m. eastern time (ET) on June 19, 2018, after the woman’s family called the federation. He received a call back at 8:14 p.m. ET from Constable Heather Fortier who said, according to McCurdie's testimony, "the victim was unwilling to come forward despite their efforts to convince her." Talach, E.M.’s attorney, has since said his client talked to police the first of three times on June 22, 2018. An investigation was conducted and London police notified Hockey Canada on Feb. 6, 2019, that it was closing the case. London police called for a review and reopened its investigation on July 22, 2022.

2003 Canadian world juniors team: Halifax police are investigating an alleged group sexual assault said to have taken place in 2003 in that city involving players from the Canadian world junior hockey team. In a TSN story, three sources are said to have viewed a video that purportedly "shows roughly a half-dozen players taking turns having sex with a woman who was non-responsive." Conservative member of parliament (MP) John Nater, a Heritage committee member, was the one who first learned of the alleged event. Almost all of the members of the 2003 Canadian team went on to play in the NHL, some with lengthy careers. The league is also investigating the allegation.

Danielle Robitaille: The lead investigator for Hockey Canada's third-party law firm Henein Hutchison, Robitaille, 41, is the firm's third partner and has been called by a peer the legal profession's next "superstar." The Kanata, Ont., native earned her honours bachelor of arts from the University of Toronto and her LLB from Dalhousie University. She was called to the Ontario bar in 2007. According to the firm's website, she "is a trusted investigator with experience investigating sensitive matters for companies, organizations, and institutions," including "allegations of wrongdoing related to regulatory non-compliance, fraud, and/or physical and sexual violence." Her firm has taken on high-profile clients accused of sexual assault — lead counsel Marie Henein, with Robitaille by her side, defended Jian Ghomeshi and David Frost, both of whom were acquitted, and Robitaille, according to lawandstyle.ca, "secured a retrial for a man convicted of sexual assault by arguing that he is a 'sexsomniac' who committed the act in his sleep and, therefore, should not be held criminally responsible." A law professor told Sportsnet that "Henein Hutchison LLP has a great reputation in the legal community." A key component in this case is the collection of text messages and smartphone video that were allegedly exchanged between the woman and one of the John Does. When asked, not in reference to any specific case, on The Yunusov Question podcast about the implications of this relatively new kind of evidence, Robitaille said, "it's a massive amount of information to review and derive meaning from. I think that it has massive implications on all aspects of our practice, but also on a witness's experience." She added that such technology "enhances the truth-seeking function of trial." When the committee learned that the initial investigation conducted by Robitaille was halted because only 10 of the 19 players at the 2018 event participated, MPs were not impressed. But with her investigation now renewed, players testifying, and texts and video in hand, Robitaille will be a strong agent of change.

Bob Nicholson: Nicholson, 69, was Hockey Canada’s president and chief executive officer (CEO) from 1998 until 2014, when he left for Oilers Entertainment Group and was replaced by Tom Renney. Nicholson was born in Vancouver, and grew up and played his minor hockey in Penticton, B.C. Nicholson attended Providence College on a scholarship, where he played for coach Lou Lamoriello and played with Brian Burke and Ron Wilson. From 1979-89, Nicholson was the technical director of the British Columbia Amateur Hockey Association. He then took the position of vice-president of technical operations for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), and he was a senior vice-president when the CAHA merged with Hockey Canada in 1994. He is credited with fostering Hockey Canada's successful business model by negotiating lucrative TV deals for tournaments, enhancing the women's teams and programs as well as instituting methods of building team chemistry in short periods of time, which panned out for many of Canada's international entries. He has also been with the IIHF as regional vice-president for the Americas since 2012, where he still has a heavy influence. Nicholson was in charge of Hockey Canada when the alleged 2003 incident occurred.

Tom Renney: Hockey Canada’s former CEO, Renney, 67, retired on July 1, a move he testified had been planned long before this year. Renney was born in Cranbrook, B.C., and earned a degree in physical education from the University of North Dakota. In 1990, he took over as coach of the Kamloops Blazers, where he won back-to-back Western Hockey League (WHL) titles and the 1992 Memorial Cup. After that, he moved on to head-coaching stints with the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers (where he started as director of player personnel). He also spent time as an associate coach to Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings. During his international career, he brought home one gold, five silver (including from the 1994 Olympics as head coach of Team Canada) and one bronze. He joined Hockey Canada in 1998 and served as vice-president of hockey operations until 2000. In July 2014, he was named president and chief executive officer. In 2017, he named Scott Smith president and retained the role of CEO. Although he was not subject to many questions in the last hearings in Ottawa, much of the organization’s response to the alleged 2018 incident took place under his watch.

Scott Smith: Smith, 55, is Hockey Canada’s president and chief operating officer (COO), and added the title of CEO after Tom Renney retired on July 1, 2022 — less than two months after E.M.’s lawsuit was settled. Smith started his tenure at Hockey Canada in 1995 as the manager of hockey operations for the Atlantic Canada centre of excellence in Saint John, New Brunswick. In 1997, he moved to Hockey Canada's head office in Calgary as the director of operations. In 1998, with the retirement of Murray Costello and promotion of Bob Nicholson to president, Smith was promoted to vice-president of business operations. When Nicholson retired in 2014, Smith was named COO but passed over for the top job in favour of Renney, who came from a more traditional coaching background. Smith took on the title of president when Renney relinquished it on July 1, 2017, in a move that Renney hoped would make Hockey Canada more diverse because of Smith's background. During the most recent hearings in Ottawa, Smith faced calls for his resignation from members of four major political parties while insisting he is the right person to lead the change that Hockey Canada needs to undergo. He reports to the Hockey Canada board of directors and has reportedly survived a call for his resignation by that board.

Tim Hortons, Scotiabank, Telus, Canadian Tire, Esso: In late June, these Hockey Canada corporate partners paused their sponsorship money of the world juniors in Edmonton. Less than three weeks after that announcement, the sports minister was questioned about what she knew and when by an MP; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised a thorough investigation; Hockey Canada reopened its investigation of the alleged 2018 incident; E.M. said she would participate in the reopened investigation; players on the 2018 team began issuing statements; and it came to light that Hockey Canada kept a separate fund to pay for uninsured liabilities, including abuse claims. The absence of these companies from the world juniors in Edmonton and the potential impact of their next moves make them, collectively, one of the most powerful agents of change.

Dr. Hedy Fry: Fry is the chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which oversees Hockey Canada's funding as part of its mandate. Fry, 81, was born in Trinidad and Tobago. After completing her science degree in one year at Oxford, she received her medical doctorate from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and immigrated to Vancouver in 1970, where she established a family practice and worked at St. Paul's Hospital for 23 years. Representing Vancouver Centre for the Liberals, Fry first ran for office in 1993, defeating then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell, becoming the fifth person to defeat a sitting prime minister and the first to do so in a first attempt. She has been re-elected a remarkable nine straight times, and is the longest-serving female member of Parliament. Most notably, she was previously Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and, while in opposition, a critic for Sport Canada. As chair of the Heritage committee, while appearing virtually from Vancouver, she is responsible for keeping speaking MPs to their allotted time, setting ground rules for MPs and determining, with MPs, next steps in the hearings, including scheduling.

Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage: Chaired by Hedy Fry, the Heritage committee is made up of members of Parliament from all four parties and oversees a broad spectrum of subjects, ranging from updating the Broadcasting Act to better reflect the influence of international streaming and online services, to finding ways to support artists and the cultural sector as they recover from the effects of COVID-19, to working with Indigenous peoples to create a monument in Ottawa for residential school victims and survivors, to looking into Hockey Canada through Sport Canada. It has 12 full members, but some are more active than others while others have been effectively replaced by associate members from their own party. Consistently vocal MPs on the committee: John Nater (Conservatives), Peter Julian (NDP), Anthony Housefather (Liberal), Sébastien Lemire (Bloc Québecois) and Kevin Waugh (Conservatives). A jaded observer might see some members’ work as grandstanding to help politicians further their careers, but there's no question Hockey Canada’s primary accountability has been to this committee.

Pascale St-Onge: Canada’s minister of sport has felt the heat from opposition MPs for how Hockey Canada, through Sport Canada, handled the investigation into the alleged 2018 incident. A native of Saint-Eustache, Québec, St-Onge, 45, says that although she has held the Sport Canada portfolio only a short time, she feels "a responsibility to change things." A former competitive swimmer and volleyball player, St-Onge holds a bachelor of arts in literary studies from the University of Quebec in Montréal and a certificate in journalism from the University of Montréal. She served as secretary general and then president of Quebec's union of communications and culture. In her first federal election, representing the Eastern Townships riding of Brome-Missisquoi, St-Onge defeated the Bloc Québecois candidate by a mere 197 votes and, without any significant political experience, was unwittingly thrown directly onto the hot seat, being named to her current portfolio on Oct. 26, 2021 (she is also the minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Québec ). St-Onge has real power to directly influence Hockey Canada, as is evident in her freezing Hockey Canada's federal funding and calling for an audit of the federation's finances. She prides herself on being a champion of change and said during an extensive sit-down interview with Sportsnet's Iain MacIntyre that she intends to "revise the entire funding system" for Canadian sport federations, including Hockey Canada.

Michael Brind'Amour: A Québec lawyer, Brind'Amour was in his second term as chair of the Hockey Canada board of directors when he resigned on Aug. 6. Brind'Amour was first elected chair of the board at the Hockey Canada annual meeting in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2018, taking over for Joe Drago of Sudbury, Ont., who had completed his maximum two terms. Out of Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, Que., which is about 100 km north of Montreal, Brind'Amour was the president of Hockey Québec from 2006-11 and practiced law for more than 40 years, specializing in civil, family youth protection, criminal and administrative social law. Brind'Amour's resignation doesn't mean he is off the hook when it comes to testimony in front of the Parliamentary committee, as his tenure with Hockey Canada started mere months after the alleged event took place in London in 2018.

Andrea Skinner: The interim chair of the Hockey Canada board of directors, Skinner is a Toronto lawyer with serious hockey chops. A native of Markham, Ontario in suburban Toronto, Skinner, 37, and all five of her siblings played competitive hockey, including brother Jeff, who is entering his 13th season in the NHL. She was the captain at Cornell University and, after that, a high-level referee with the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association. She was also an assistant coach at the University of Ottawa while earning her law degree. Skinner was named the interim chair of Hockey Canada on Aug. 9 after the Aug. 6 resignation of Michael Brind'Amour. As someone who joined the board in 2020 as part of Hockey Canada's efforts to diversify, Skinner is a relative newcomer and is a logical candidate to affect change. With Brind'Amour's resignation, she becomes the new person in the intense spotlight of accountability surrounding Hockey Canada's troubles.

Glen McCurdie: Hockey Canada's former vice-president of insurance and risk management was the first executive with the federation to reach out to external parties after learning of the alleged incident in 2018 on a call with Denise Pattyn, senior director of human resources with Hockey Canada, and Scott Salmond, vice-president of men's national teams. During the call — which he testified took place at 12:08 p.m. ET on June 19, 2018, while he was at the London event — McCurdie learned of details shared with Pattyn during a phone call with a member of E.M.’s family, believed to be her stepfather. "They described the allegations to me in a brief manner," McCurdie testified. "I had not dealt with this kind of real-time situation in my 30 years at Hockey Canada, nor have I dealt with one like it since that time." When McCurdie spoke to Henein Hutchison lawyer Danielle Robitaille at 1:30 p.m. ET, she recommended the woman go to London police and, if she didn't, instructed McCurdie to report the incident. He then coordinated via conference call with Tom Renney, Scott Smith, Salmond and Pattyn on next steps. He reported the incident to London police and, the next day, to Hockey Canada's insurers. After 30 years with Hockey Canada, McCurdie retired from the federation in December. He testified his retirement was not related to the alleged incident and said he did not take part in the settlement of the suit with the complainant.

Director of sport safety, Hockey Canada: This position, advertised online as a new opening by Hockey Canada on Aug. 11 and yet to be filled, will lead the development, implementation and evaluation of an “all-encompassing multi-year maltreatment, harassment and abuse strategy.” That's a big mandate to inherit, so you'd expect someone from outside of the hockey culture here to affect real change.

Canadian Hockey League (CHL) commissioners, president: David Branch, Gilles Courteau and Ron Robison have a combined 100 years of experience in their respective roles (and combined age of 204). Branch took over the OHL in 1979, Courteau took over the Québec Major Junior Hockey League in 1987 and Robison took over the WHL in 2000. During testimony at the July hearings, the commissioners weren't asked many questions by the MPs — CHL president and former National Basketball Association (NBA) Canada executive Dan MacKenzie answered most of them — but in some ways they, along with the CHL as a whole and the leagues they oversee, play an influential role in the lives of the players who play on the world junior teams: Players are recruited, drafted, signed, trained and supervised from as young as 14 until as old as 20. They are with their junior teams from September through as late as May each year while often living far from parents or agents. When these players are called up to the national junior team, they are technically Hockey Canada's responsibility for less than a month. MacKenzie, hired to be the CHL's first full-time president — previously, it had rotated as an additional duty of one of the three league commissioners, Branch being the most recent — could be the key game-changer here, as the Guelph, Ont., native prides himself in being from a more diverse, non-hockey work background, counts NBA commissioners Adam Silver and David Stern among influences and brings degrees from McMaster, Brock, George Brown and Ohio University.

Thomas Cromwell: The former Supreme Court judge, Cromwell, 70, will lead Hockey Canada's governance review. Cromwell was born in Kingston, Ontario and has law degrees from Queen's University (1976) and Oxford (1977). Having been nominated to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal by Jean Chretien and the Supreme Court of Canada by Stephen Harper, Cromwell has been seen as a political centrist. He retired from the Supreme Court on Sept. 1, 2016, and joined Toronto-based law firm Borden Ladner Gervais as counsel in February 2017. In addition to serving as a judge for the Supreme Court of Canada from December 2008 to September 2016, Cromwell chaired the Chief Justice of Canada’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters from 2008-18. Supporting him in the Hockey Canada review will be Victoria Prince and Nadia Effendi of Borden Ladner Gervais. If Cromwell can be a completely objective voice on Hockey Canada while ostensively working for Hockey Canada, he has the power to recommend — but not necessarily enact — a great deal of change.

Jared Maples: Maples is the NHL's lead investigator in this case. As you might expect from someone in his position, there is little information available about him aside from what's mentioned in his official NHL.com bio. He joined the NHL as its executive vice-president, chief security officer, on June 7, 2021, after four years as director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Before that, Maples, now 41, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (2006-16) and the U.S. Department of Defense (2004-06). He has an associate of arts in government degree from Valley Forge Military College (2001), a bachelor of arts in political science from Villanova University (2003) and a master's in business administration from Georgetown University (2014). Maples might be the one to definitively identify the participants in the alleged 2003 and/or 2018 incidents.

--with files from Sportsnet's Emily Sadler

 

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