The federal sport minister is ramping up her criticism of those leading Hockey Canada — an organization accused of mishandling allegations of gang rapes — by urging them to vacant their positions before the sports body is damaged beyond repair.
“I hope they understand the message and leave before they burn it to the ground,” Pascale St-Onge said Thursday after a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill.
Her comments are just the latest salvo aimed at the national ice hockey body.
Canadian Tire announced earlier in the day that it is permanently ending its partnership with Hockey Canada.
“In our view, Hockey Canada continues to resist meaningful change and we can no longer confidently move forward together,” said Jessica Sims, a spokesperson for the Canadian Tire Corporation.
“CTC is proud of our commitment to sport and will continue to invest in our beloved national game by redirecting support to hockey-related organizations that better align with our values.”
Other Canadian companies are pulling their support as well.
Telus, which was considered a “premier” sponsor, announced Thursday morning it no longer will be funding Hockey Canada’s men’s program for the upcoming season.
“We are deeply disheartened by the lack of action and commitment from Hockey Canada to drive necessary cultural change,” the telecommunications company said in a statement.
“Telus will not be sponsoring Hockey Canada’s men’s hockey programs for the 2022-23 season, including the upcoming world juniors tournament. We remain passionate fans and supporters of the sport of hockey and stand committed to enabling systemic change to make hockey safe for all.”
Hockey Canada is planning to host the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton, N.B., from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
On Wednesday, Tim Hortons announced it would be pulling its sponsorship from all Hockey Canada men’s hockey programming for the 2022-23 season, including the men’s world junior championships.
Major sponsors paused funding ahead of the August 2022 world junior championships in Edmonton after TSN reported in May that Hockey Canada had paid an undisclosed settlement to a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team.
Hockey Canada has since confirmed it has paid out $8.9 million in settlements to 21 complainants with sexual misconduct claims against its players since 1989.
The organization also has admitted it drew on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.
The CBC’s The Fifth Estate identified at least 15 cases of alleged group sexual assault involving junior hockey players that have been investigated by police since 1989 — half of which surfaced in the past decade — through a review of public records.
Hockey Canada says no to management changes
The companies’ decisions add corporate pressure to mounting calls for ice hockey’s national governing body to undergo a change in its leadership after a widely panned appearance by one of its executives in front of a parliamentary committee this week.
On Tuesday, interim board chair Andrea Skinner defended Hockey Canada, saying it has an “excellent reputation” and suggesting its critics are scapegoating “hockey as a centrepiece for toxic culture.”
Skinner has insisted that Hockey Canada won’t be making any changes to its management despite a direct request from St-Onge, who has said she believes mass resignations at the governing body are necessary to restore public trust.
At one point, Skinner was asked to grade the performance of Hockey Canada’s CEO Scott Smith, who has been widely condemned for his management of the organization.
“I’m a hard marker, and I think that the circumstances in which Mr. Smith has been working have been really extraordinary and difficult. I would say that he’s conducting himself as an ‘A’ in the circumstances,” she responded.
Skinner’s comments led to something rare in Ottawa: united criticism from the main political parties.
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, a former television sports journalist, called Hockey Canada’s response to calls for a change in management “arrogant.”
“They’ve doubled down and it’s disgusting, really,” he said Wednesday.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire said Hockey Canada is “living in a bubble” and is “disconnected” from public opinion.
Those comments were echoed by NDP MP Peter Julian, who called Hockey Canada’s refusal to disclose some information “disturbing.”
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Those frustrations are shared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said Thursday it’s time to think about starting a new organization to replace Hockey Canada.
“It is inconceivable that folks at Hockey Canada continue to dig in. It’s not like there’s something extraordinarily special about the people at Hockey Canada that means they are the only people in the country that can run an organization like this,” he said.
“They need to realize that if we have to create an organization, get rid of Hockey Canada and create an organization called ‘Canada Hockey’ instead, people will look at doing that.”
Trudeau said that while the federal government “isn’t in the business” of starting new hockey organizations, he is sure “there will be a vacuum filled up.”
Imperial Oil hasn’t made a decision yet
In a statement Thursday morning, Chevrolet Canada reiterated its position from June, saying it has stepped back from its sponsorship activities with Hockey Canada “as we seek more clarity on what specific steps the organization has and will take following the alleged incidents of abuse.”
“We at GM have no tolerance for abuse of any kind and wish to see Hockey Canada return to setting a positive example for all Canadians in all it does,” spokesperson Jennifer Wright said in a statement.
WATCH | Hockey Canada’s interim chair a ‘scapegoat,’ sports minister says:
Scotiabank has said its June decision to pause its sponsorship remains in effect.
“In our open letter in June, we publicly called on Hockey Canada to hold the game to a higher standard and we are disappointed with the lack of progress to date,” the bank said in a statement.
In a media statement, Imperial Oil, another major sponsor, said it hasn’t made a decision yet on supporting the 2023 men’s world junior championship through its Esso brand.
“As previously mentioned, we continue to find this matter deeply concerning and have regularly communicated our expectations to Hockey Canada that concrete steps must be taken to address safety issues and ensure swift culture change,” said spokesperson Keri Scobie on Thursday.
“Imperial remains committed to ongoing support to Canada’s hockey community and grassroots youth and women’s programs across the country, as we have done for more than 40 years.”
The federal government also has announced it will stop all funding for Hockey Canada until it shows signs of positive change.
Two provincial hockey organizations also have made moves against the national body.
Earlier this week, Hockey Quebec said it has lost confidence in Hockey Canada and will not transfer funds to the national organization.
The Ontario Hockey Federation, the largest of Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial hockey associations, said it has asked Hockey Canada again to not collect the $3 participant assessment fee from its members for the 2022-23 season.
The executive director of the Ontario group said the organization is monitoring the situation.