Former Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson and current Hockey Canada Senior Vice President of Strategy, Operations and Brand Pat McLaughlin appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Tuesday to testify to the organization’s handling of alleged sexual assaults over the past two decades.

McLaughlin claimed in his opening statement that “we heard you. Hockey Canada needs to change and it needs to change urgently. Canadians expect and deserve meaningful action, and frankly, our organization has been too slow to act.

Nicholson was President and CEO of Hockey Canada from 1998 to 2014. Previously, Nicholson was Vice-President of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association from 1989, a role he held until the merger of the Association. organization with Hockey Canada in 1994, when he became senior vice-president of Hockey Canada.

Asked about alleged sexual assaults, including alleged gang sexual violence perpetrated during his tenure and in the years since, Nicholson responded by saying, “That kind of conduct has no place in our game or in our society. I hope both cases will be thoroughly investigated and justice served.

Bob Nicholson, former CEO of Hockey Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Nicholson, who is currently the CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group, has come under scrutiny as a key figure in the development and implementation of Hockey Canada policy, or lack thereof. , in relation to the reporting and investigation of sexual violence, as well as in the education of players on consent.

As Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire told Nicholson: “You helped create the toxic culture in my opinion for different reasons and maybe for the wrong reasons, what we notice in hindsight is that you were sort of the architect of this culture…the culture of silence and the culture of concealment.

On the financial level, two new pieces of information were disclosed during Tuesday’s hearing. First, it was the cost of hiring a crisis management company Navigator following allegations made to Hockey Canada. McLaughlin said this year Navigator was paid approximately $1.6 million for their services. It’s a number that NDP MP Peter Julian found shocking.

“I find it outrageous that $1.6 million was spent on Navigator with such a disastrous PR strategy,” he said.

In McLaughlin’s words, Navigator was hired to serve a number of purposes and roles for Hockey Canada.

“It’s not a communication exercise that they participated in,” McLaughlin said. “It was about…transparency. They gave the Board of Directors important advice in terms of governance, they helped us find eminent Canadians to be part of our action plan and the oversight committee, they also helped us on a daily basis… day to work with the media.

According to Conservative MP Rachel Thomas, however, she hasn’t seen Hockey Canada actually working to bring about change. Instead, she watched Hockey Canada work to change public perception.

“What I don’t see is a desire to actually rebuild the culture…which then makes it look like just a publicity stunt, a refinement of language, a desire to regain public trust without actually bringing significant change within the culture within Hockey Canada,” said Thomas.

In addition to the communication and crisis management services of Navigatorand associated costs, it was also stated that Hockey Canada expects the financial impact of sponsorship losses to be nearly $24 million.

While many sponsors have said they will reallocate funds to grassroots, women’s and Para ice hockey programs, McLaughlin said only a portion of the funds originally pledged will remain.

“While that’s great and we really appreciate the repositioning of dollars, the reality is that it’s not dollar for dollar, it’s cents on the dollar, so it’s costing us, no doubt.” , McLaughlin said.

Regarding the National Equity Fund, which was used to pay for settlements related to sexual assault claims, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather pointed to the inconsistencies between Hockey Canada’s communications to the public and to members and what reported by Justice Thomas Cromwell in his review of governance. organisation.

As Housefather reported, Hockey Canada sent a memo to members stating that the National Equity Fund was being used not only to pay for sexual assault settlements, but also for safety, well-being initiatives. health and well-being, including advice and treatment for players.

“I understand that’s true,” McLaughlin said of those goals. “I know a number of our members have shared this on their website and with their members.”

According to the Cromwell Report and MP Housefather, however, these statements are false.

“Judge Cromwell, on page 151 of his report, found no indication that any security, welfare or welfare initiatives were ever paid for from this fund,” Housefather said. “So basically you informed your members that the fund had all kinds of altruistic components in addition to paying these claims, but it turns out that wasn’t true at all, it turns out it was absolutely wrong.”

Housefather also criticized the use of the National Equity Fund, which was originally designed to pay for uninsurable accidents and injuries during sanctioned hockey activities, to pay for sexual assaults allegedly committed by members of Canadian national teams, asking “Would you agree with me that whatever happened in that hotel room in London in 2018 was not sanctioned hockey activity? »

McLaughlin responded in agreement.

Finally, the issue of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) continued to be a topic of discussion for members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

As NDP MP Peter Julian said, no one connected to NDAs with Hockey Canada has been released from these deals, despite Hockey Canada’s promise in initial hearings months ago that this would happen. .

Julian called it “deeply disappointing” that “nearly four months after Hockey Canada made a commitment to release people if they choose to be released from their NDAs, no one bound by non-disclosure agreements has been released”.

Investigations are still ongoing into alleged sexual assaults committed by members of Canada’s national junior hockey teams in 2003 and 2018. Hockey Canada will soon release more information regarding next steps to address governance and policy issues at the within the organization.

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