Hockey Canada has named lawyer Andrea Skinner to serve as interim president amid public pressure for a leadership overhaul to tackle the country’s troubling national winter sport culture.
The organization’s board of directors made the appointment on the advice of Hockey Canada’s 13 member provincial and territorial branches. The next board election is expected to take place at the sporting body’s annual meeting in November.
Skinner is the first woman to hold the position in the organization, replacing former president Michael Brind’Amour, who resigned last week over Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault allegations.
“Since 1914, Hockey Canada has been the organization Canadians trust to lead, develop and promote positive hockey experiences,” the national hockey governing body said in a statement Tuesday. “Recent events have called that trust into question.”
Hockey Canada has also been criticized for its use of a special multimillion-dollar fund – fed by player registration fees – to settle sexual assault claims. The review led to calls for more transparency at the board level and more diversity in the management team.
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Ms Skinner was elected to the board in 2020, after a bylaw was passed the previous year requiring a minimum of two female directors. The change at the helm comes as the World Junior Hockey Championship kicks off in Edmonton, after the tournament was halted last year due to an outbreak of COVID-19.
When Team Canada takes to the ice against Latvia on Wednesday, players won’t see the typical slew of on-board ads. Indeed, several major sponsors, including Scotiabank and Tim Hortons, have suspended or withdrawn their support of Hockey Canada or its events.
In addition to backlash from Canadians and corporate partners, the federal government has frozen funding for Hockey Canada while it conducts a financial audit to ensure that taxpayer dollars were not used to settle a recent sexual assault lawsuit.
In May, Hockey Canada paid a settlement to a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by eight Canadian Hockey League players after a 2018 Hockey Canada fundraising gala in London, Ont. The players have not been named in the lawsuit and have not been publicly identified, but they include members of the country’s 2018 World Junior Team.
A federal committee has launched public hearings into the allegations, calling for testimony from Hockey Canada executives, league officials and federal Sport Canada officials. Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge has made it clear that she believes the organization needs to undergo leadership changes.
Even after Mr. Brind’Amour resigned before the end of his last term in November, Ms. St-Onge said Hockey Canada’s top brass must ask themselves if they are the right people to guide the organization through the changes she promised. those last weeks. “We’re starting to see cracks in the fortress,” she said over the weekend. “That’s how the light comes in.”
Hockey Canada chief executive Scott Smith, who has been called upon to step down, told the federal Canadian Heritage committee in late July that he still believes he has the confidence of the board and its member branches. The Department of Canadian Heritage oversees Sport Canada, which funds national sport organizations like Hockey Canada.
NDP MP Peter Julian, who is a member of the heritage committee, said he had no problem with the new chairman of the board, but was skeptical the appointment would fundamentally change the culture of Hockey Canada. “It’s not a change in a position that makes a difference,” he said. “And we haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that Hockey Canada understands that a leadership change is needed.”
Another member of the committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, said that while Ms Skinner has “excellent credentials”, he doesn’t believe the move will solve Hockey Canada’s overall governance problem. “There needs to be a much broader change than one board member stepping down and being replaced by another board member who was there when the recent settlement was agreed,” he said.
Ms. Skinner is a partner at Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto, where she practices in the areas of municipal law, land use planning and expropriation, and also chairs the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
She has played at the elite level in several sports, including hockey. At Cornell University, Ms. Skinner played four years of varsity hockey and was a captain in her senior year. She is the older sister of NHL star Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres.
In its statement, Hockey Canada said Ms Skinner was recruited to the board by the organization’s independent nominating committee. A spokesperson said in an email that Ms Skinner was unavailable for an interview. Ms. Skinner did not respond to an email interview request.
After news of the settlement became public, Hockey Canada released a 19-page document outlining an action plan to address the code of silence and toxic behavior in sport. The plan includes a commitment to a third-party governance review, which will be led by former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell.
Ticket sales for the World Junior Tournament, which usually takes place in the winter, have been poor. Several hundred people attended Tuesday’s match between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and half as many showed up for the Finland-Latvia game, leaving chasms of empty rows at Rogers Place, the 18,500-seat arena of the Oilers. There are still thousands of tickets available for Wednesday’s Team Canada opener.
Ms. Skinner’s interim appointment was well received by tournament supporters. Aaron McKay, who is originally from Edmonton but became a Czech hockey fan at a young age, described the move as a “big change”.
“Having a responsible wife will be better,” said the University of Alberta student. “They treat each other better than men. …She won’t endure much for sure.
Marty Hackenberg, an engineer originally from the Czech Republic but who has lived in Alberta for 17 years, also supports the nomination. “I totally agree,” he said. “Change is good.”
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