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Hockey Canada Leaders Step Down in Wake of Sexual-Assault Settlement


OTTAWA—The chief executive and the board of directors at Canada’s governing body for hockey stepped down Tuesday, after some of Canada’s biggest corporations severed financial relationships with the organization in response to its handling of sexual assault allegations.

Hockey Canada said the resignations are in recognition of “the urgent need for new leadership and perspectives.” The organization will hold votes for members to elect a new board no later than mid-December.

Hockey Canada establishes playing rules for amateur hockey in the country, and is responsible for organizing national teams to participate in international events—among them, the annual world junior ice-hockey championship, which Canada has won 19 times. The tournament takes place over the Christmas holiday period and is a major television draw in Canada. An estimated 36% of the country’s population tuned in during the 2021 tournament, the International Ice Hockey Federation estimates.

Hockey Canada has faced criticism in recent months from politicians and its sponsors about how it handled allegations of sexual assault at a June, 2018, party it organized for members of Canada’s 2017-18 world-junior championship team. A woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight members of that squad, at a hotel in London, Ontario, following the gala. Police in London conducted an eight-month investigation and didn’t file criminal charges.

Hockey Canada reached a settlement with the woman this year, weeks after she filed a lawsuit, with organization officials telling Canadian lawmakers they believed they had a “moral obligation to do so.” Hockey Canada officials said they don’t know what transpired at the party, nor do they know the identity of the players involved in the alleged assault. Hockey Canada didn’t compel team members to participate in a probe run by an external law firm.

“I will just reiterate that the process we followed regarding the incident in London in 2018 was not perfect, but it was intended to ensure that Hockey Canada did not and could not interfere in the investigation,”

Scott Smith,

who stepped down as CEO of Hockey Canada on Tuesday, told lawmakers in July.

London police have since reopened the criminal investigation. Canadian officials said Hockey Canada failed to hold those responsible accountable. “This is a sadly troubling example of sexual violence based on gender and a culture of silence. That culture shields individuals who face allegations of appalling behavior from accountability for their actions,” said Canada’s minister for sports,

Pascale St-Onge,

adding the government provides Hockey Canada with annual funding.

Criticism leveled at Hockey Canada escalated over the past week after the board’s former interim chairwoman,

Andrea Skinner,

backed the current management team, over Ms. St-Onge’s objections. “Our board does not share the view that senior leadership should be replaced,” Ms. Skinner told lawmakers at a parliamentary hearing last week. “Hockey Canada has an excellent reputation.”

Canadian Prime Minister

Justin Trudeau

said Tuesday that it took Hockey Canada “far too long” to make the required leadership changes. “I think it shows that there is a culture within Hockey Canada which failed to understand just how serious this was,” he told reporters at an event in Quebec. “Now the work really can start on…regaining the trust of Canadians and Canadian parents.”

Some of Canada’s highest-profile corporate names cut financial and sponsorship ties with Hockey Canada. Coffee chain Tim Hortons, retailer Canadian Tire and Bank of Nova Scotia suspended their support for the current 2022-23 hockey season.

Tim Hortons said Tuesday the departure of board members and the CEO marks the first step to restore trust in the governing body. It added it would not restore funding for men’s hockey “until we’re confident that progress is being made and Canadians once again believe in the organization’s leadership and its ability to do what’s right for the game we all love.”

Bauer Hockey, originally founded in Canada and now based in New Hampshire, decided to stop providing free equipment, like helmets and gloves, to Canada’s men’s hockey teams.

“The allegations against and continued and repeated breach of trust by Hockey Canada’s leadership are extremely disturbing and warrant change,” Bauer said. “We have lost confidence in Hockey Canada’s leadership.”

The most recent Statistics Canada figures suggest hockey is the top organized sport in the country, followed by golf and soccer. Nearly 400,000 Canadians registered in 2020-21 to play hockey, according to Hockey Canada’s most recent annual report.

Write to Paul Vieira at [email protected]

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