MPs’ power play against Hockey Canada a must to affect change
Article originally published in The Star
Contributors – Mitch Heimpel
Two weeks and two very different representations of hockey on Parliament Hill.
The first was a celebration. Fifty years since Team Canada triumphed over the Soviet Union in the Summit Series. Heroes of the game were paraded around the floor of the House of Commons as party leaders paid tribute to some of their greatest moments.
The second was a well-deserved inquisition. For the third time, representatives of Hockey Canada were hauled before the Heritage Committee over the organization’s repeated failings in handling sexual assault allegations against players. This appearance followed the revelation of a second fund set up by Hockey Canada to settle sexual assault claims.
Hockey Canada’s committee appearance was a disaster. Rather than understanding that there are real victims at the centre of it all, Hockey Canada is trying to spin its way out, painting it as the victim of unfair questioning by the media and politicians.
Local federations are either severing ties or calling Hockey Canada’s leadership into question. Most of the organizations major sponsors have either cut all ties or are refusing to sponsor men’s events this year.
The organization has failed women who were victims of sexual violence. Only serious governance change — not spin — is going to begin the process of rebuilding what’s left of the organization.
Members of Parliament of all parties seem to understand what Hockey Canada has forgot. Hockey is both more than a sport in this country and hockey is also in trouble in this country. It’s a sport increasingly affordable only to the affluent. In an era where the Raptors are champions, the Blue Jays are playing playoff baseball and both national soccer teams are climbing the international rankings, hockey’s place in the Canada relies on its pre-existing purchase on the national soul.
Hockey Canada, as trustee of that legacy, has laid waste to it. Government has a role here. As a Liberal and a Conservative, on opposite sides of the most recent federal election, we’re encouraged by the non-partisan tone of the committee investigation and we hope that continues.
We need Parliamentarians to keep the pressure on Hockey Canada using the bully pulpit. Minister St. Onge was right when she said Hockey Canada treats sexual violence like an insurance problem, not a systemic problem. The government needs to continue to call out the systemic failures of Hockey Canada and not let the organization off the hook until it grasps the severity of the issue — that it continues to fail victims of sexual assault.
The audit the minister has ordered is a good step. Canadians are prepared to support more. The Hockey Canada Foundation’s future as a charitable organization should be contingent on leadership change at the organization. It’s entirely possible that Hockey Canada’s corporate practices, and its use of funds, fail to meet the standards we have set up for charities in this country. Its corporate accountability is non-existent. It has a systemic problem, and it has also made clear that it will only change if it is faced with clear and present threat to its future.
Hockey is played by young women from coast to coast and playing for Team Canada is the pinnacle of their sport. These female athletes deserve a governing body that is held to a higher standard. Right now, they do not have one.
All hockey players in this country, all the volunteers and the hockey parents deserve a Hockey Canada that is a functioning organization. Currently, it is not.
It’s not a coincidence that the prime minister mused about Hockey Canada’s future — the executives at Hockey Canada need to either hang up their skates or get kicked off the ice.