CEO Scott Smith out at Hockey Canada, board of directors resigns
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 11, 2022 11:23AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 11, 2022 3:00PM EDT
Scott Smith spent nearly three decades climbing the ladder at Hockey Canada.
He lasted just over three months at the top following a series of scandals that rocked the sport's national organization to its core.
Smith is out as Hockey Canada's president and CEO, the embattled federation announced Tuesday.
The board of directors has also resigned.
Smith was unable to survive the fallout related to Hockey Canada's mishandling of sexual assault allegations and how settlements were paid out - revelations that both enraged the country and opened yet another conversation about the sport's toxic culture.
Hockey Canada said in a statement that an interim management committee will guide the organization until a new board, which is set to be elected in December, appoints Smith's successor.
Hockey Canada said the outgoing board recognized “the urgent need for new leadership and new perspectives” in stepping down.
Federal Minister of Sport Pascal St-Onge called Tuesday's changes “the right decision” and “a step toward restoring Canadians' confidence in the organization.”
“The interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“We expect Hockey Canada to actively work towards a team whose expertise will contribute to better support and training for players, and an environment exempt from sexual violence and discrimination.”
Smith and the outgoing board follow former chair Michael Brind'Amour, who resigned in August, and interim chair Andrea Skinner, who stepped down Saturday, as casualties at an organization that has seen politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, call for significant change as corporate sponsors jumped ship.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a member of the House of Commons heritage committee that's been looking into Hockey Canada since the spring, said Tuesday's news “seem like a great step.”
“An excellent indication that Hockey Canada now better understands that change is required,” Housefather said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Housefather added it's his belief that when Skinner and Brind'Amour appeared before committee last week - the third time Hockey Canada officials have been called to Parliament Hill since June - they and other members of the leadership thought the storm could still be weathered.
Instead, the heat was turned up even further following a disastrous showing that saw the organization further dig in its heels and back Smith.
“If the heritage committee had not gone as badly as it did last week for Hockey Canada, I don't think this would have happened,” Housefather said. “This wasn't their intention going into the meeting. Their intent on the way to the meeting was to tell everybody that the media was all wrong and they were being scapegoated and they were fine.
“The meeting and everything that followed from it has led to this.”
Bloc MP and committee member Sebastien Lemire said the changes “finally gives us a glimpse of the possibility of serious culture change.”
“Hockey Canada has now accepted the evidence,” Lemire tweeted in French. “We will continue to demand an independent inquiry to shed some light on the dated and opaque management of Hockey Canada and force a real examination of its practices.”
Smith took over from outgoing CEO Tom Renney on July 1 after a succession plan was announced in April, but Hockey Canada's world started to crumble shortly thereafter.
TSN was first to report in May that an undisclosed settlement had been paid to a woman who alleged in a $3.55-million lawsuit she was sexually assaulted by eight players - including members of the country's world junior team - after a 2018 Hockey Canada gala in London, Ont.
Smith, who previously served as both president and COO, and the soon-to-be-retired Renney were grilled during what would be the first committee meeting looking into Hockey Canada in June.
MPs were left stunned by the lack of transparency and accountability. Hockey Canada subsequently had federal funding cut off, while a number of corporations paused sponsorship dollars.
NDP MP and committee member Peter Julian said Tuesday the Hockey Canada scandals have resonated because legislators have never before moved “to ensure accountability and transparency, and a zero-tolerance policy on issues of sexual abuse and sexual violence.”
“The federal government needs to step up,” Julian said in an interview. “Not just for Hockey Canada, but for all of the national sports organizations that have basically been able to do what they want with no government oversight for far too long.”
Hockey Canada issued a carefully worded open letter July 14 that contained a number of promises, including a pledge to reopen an incomplete third-party investigation into the 2018 alleged assault and a full governance review, which is being led by former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell.
“We have not done enough to address the actions of some members of the 2018 national junior team or to end the culture of toxic behaviour within our game,” Hockey Canada wrote.
“For that we unreservedly apologize.”
But the ugly headlines continued with the emergence of a secretive fund partly maintained by minor hockey registration fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims.
Hockey Canada then announced members of the 2003 world junior team were being investigated for a group sexual assault days before the federation released an “action plan” to address safe sport issues.
A Hockey Canada official testified to parliamentarians in July the organization had doled out $7.6 million in nine settlements related to sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989, not including this year's payout to the London plaintiff. The majority of the money went to victims of disgraced former junior coach Graham James.
Smith, who joined Hockey Canada in 1995, testified before the heritage committee a second time in July where he resisted calls for his resignation from politicians of all party stripes.
Police in London, meanwhile, have reopened the investigation into the 2018 incident. The NHL is also conducting an investigation.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The calls for Smith's ouster increased further last week in the wake of the most recent committee meeting after Hockey Canada's former and current board chairs backing Smith.
Brind'Amour said he had the qualities to “do something positive for the organization.”
Skinner, meanwhile, added hockey should not be made a “scapegoat”' for toxic culture that exists elsewhere in society.
The response to those comments was swift, with Hockey Quebec stating it had lost confidence in Hockey Canada and would not transfer funds to the national organization. A number of the sport's provincial bodies announced similar decisions.
With its government funding already shut off, a number of corporate sponsors - including Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire and Nike - either paused or fully withdrew millions of sponsorship dollar altogether.
Trudeau mused about replacing Hockey Canada with another national body, while Nova Scotia's premier said he would need to see significant change at Hockey Canada in order for his province to follow through on plans to host the upcoming world juniors in Halifax and Moncton, N.B.
The dominoes started to fall over the weekend when Skinner resigned before Smith and the rest of the board exited Tuesday.
“Hockey Canada must develop not only exceptional athletes, but also good citizens who respect women, the public and the law,” St-Onge said Tuesday.
“The case of Hockey Canada shows that the governance and leadership of national sport organizations determine the way cases of sexual violence, abuse and other forms of maltreatment are managed.”
-With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and John Chidley-Hill in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2022.