Questions continue to swirl around the future of what was once a beloved institution in this country, as Hockey Canada scrambles to deal with multiple sexual assault scandals. There continues to be growing pressure for something to be done as Canadians grow increasingly angry with the lack of action.
Things really intensified this week for the organization following a hearing in front of federal MPs, calls from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to dismantle the group and several key sponsors have pulled their funding, including Chevrolet, Tim Hortons, and Telus, just to name a few.
Speaking on Sportsnet 650 on Thursday, Oct. 6, Paul Grant is a reporter with Sportsnet, and he’s been covering Hockey Canada’s fall from grace for a couple of months.
He says things got incredibly tense on Tuesday, Oct. 4 when the chair of Hockey Canada was grilled by MPs over the use of a secret slush fund to pay off victims of abuse.
“We saw Andrea Skinner, who is the interim chair of the board, and she testified. I think there were a lot of people who were dissatisfied with her answers and dissatisfied with her approach. I was in the room when all of this was happening in Ottawa and there was a lot of hostility. The MPs were pretty fed up with the answers they were getting. I think we’re seeing a snowball roll and it’s gathering momentum.”
He says hockey culture, that’s in the spotlight right now, was front and centre during the hearing.
“I think Hockey Canada is protecting its own… but right now this is not the kind of thing that the Canadian public wants. The Canadian public wants accountability. They want some responsibility, and they want some people to take action. They want something to happen, and it really fell on deaf ears in the [hearing] on Tuesday and there was a real sense of how tone deaf [Hockey Canada’s] response was.”
Previously, Skinner defended the organization and said hockey shouldn’t be made a “scapegoat” for a toxic culture that exists elsewhere in society.
On Wednesday, Oct. 5 Hockey Quebec said it had lost confidence in Hockey Canada and would not transfer funds to the national organization.
The Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF), the largest of Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial hockey federations, re-sent a formal request to Hockey Canada not to collect the $3 participant assessment fee from its members for the 2022-23 season.
As of now, BC Hockey isn’t following the lead of its provincial counterparts.
Grant explains the MPs and other members of the Heritage Committee conveyed the only people who can act right now is the head of the 13 provincial and territorial hockey associations and sponsors. Sponsors have been dropping off quickly, while nine of 13 hockey associations have called for action.
“What they can do is they can band together and create their own rogue association and pay up to that association because, at the end of the day, it’s the local associations, it’s the provincial associations, it’s the territorial associations — they’re the ones who do all the things. Andrea Skinner at one point in her testimony on Tuesday said, ‘[If Hockey Canada goes away] will the lights stay on at the rink?’ Well, really, it’s the provincial and territorial bodies that keep the lights on. They’re the ones who do the day-to-day activities, they’re the ones who keep everything rolling.”
Grant goes on to say that change will happen if enough associations begin to take those steps. “Eventually you get so much of a momentum going for the associations that Hockey Canada could collapse and then you’ll see something completely new rise up.”
He thinks something like that is in the works right now. “Hockey is still going on. Hockey is still being played. We’re going into tryouts. We’re going into the season, so these things are not going to stop if Hockey Canada collapses.”
In addition to the sponsors mentioned above, Esso has said it would be pulling its support for men’s programs in the 2022-2023 season, including the World Junior Championship tournament until “we see meaningful accountability, transparency, and change.”
In a statement, Keri Scobie, a spokesperson for Imperial Oil, said Esso will continue to support women’s and youth programs.
“We will continue to support local and regional grassroots programs that focus on diversity, safety, and education, and that make positive impacts to the culture surrounding Canada,” Scobie said.
Sobeys said it let its contract with Hockey Canada expire in June because it was “disgusted by all of the allegations” and “Hockey Canada’s unwillingness to make meaningful change to earn back the trust of Canadians and ensure everyone feels welcome and safe when playing the sport.”
In a statement, spokesperson Paul Wyke said Sobeys will continue to support the Women’s National Hockey team and are looking into how to do that without any connection to Hockey Canada.
With files from Patricia D’Cunha and Lucas Casaletto.