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Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith and entire board of directors step down

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After his three months at the helm of Hockey Canada were embroiled in controversy and the organization facing calls for major leadership change, Chief Executive Officer Scott Smith is out, “effective immediately.”

As well, the entire Hockey Canada board of directors has agreed to step down, “recognizing the urgent need for new leadership and perspectives.”

In a statement announcing the leadership team changes, Hockey Canada said that an “interim management committee will be put in place” to guide the organization until the next slate of directors appoints a new CEO. Smith had been leading the organization since July 1.

Appointing an entirely new board of directors is expected to happen “no later” than the recently-delayed election now scheduled for Dec. 17. The organization has made a call-out for candidates to “shape the future” of Hockey Canada.

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The scandal stretches back to May of this year when TSN first reported that Hockey Canada had reached an undisclosed settlement with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted in London, Ont. by several members of the Canadian world junior hockey team, in 2018.

In June, the federal government froze its funding to Hockey Canada and ordered a financial audit. That month, federal politicians began examining Hockey Canada’s handling of alleged sexual assaults and lawsuit pay-outs.

It was then revealed by The Canadian Press in July that the organization’s “National Equity Fund” partly bolstered by minor hockey registration fees was used to pay for “uninsured liabilities,” such as sexual abuse claims, a practice the organization later confirmed it was halting.

Days later, another allegation of group sexual assault surfaced involving members of the Canadian world junior hockey team in 2003. While police and NHL investigations are underway, the allegations have not been proven in court.

As part of the House of Commons Heritage Committee’s ongoing study into “safe sport in Canada,” Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge and several key current and former Hockey Canada officials have appeared as witnesses on the matter.

The testimony heard and continuing headline-making handling of the scandal by Hockey Canada has prompted all parties to call for a change to senior leadership and a full airing of the facts, with a clear plan for reform.

During one meeting, Hockey Canada revealed that it had paid out $7.6 million as part of settlements related to nine sexual assault and abuse claims since 1989, not including the recent payout to the London plaintiff.

Appearing before the committee in July, Smith acknowledged the concerns being raised by politicians, as well as athletes and advertisers, saying that Hockey Canada understood that “Canadians’ trust in us has been eroded.”

“We are committed to take every action possible to earn it back,” Smith said at the hearing. “I know you … want answers and you want to see real action taken to end the culture of silence that allows toxic behaviour and sexism to fester in corners of our game. I do too.”

Last week, after interim chair of the board of Hockey Canada Andrea Skinner testified, suggesting that it wasn’t worth risking the lights going off in Canadian rinks should all senior leaders leave, several major sponsors including Canadian Tire, Nike, and Tim Hortons pulled their support, citing disappointment over the organization’s apparent resistance to change.

Skinner resigned over the weekend, saying that it no longer made sense for her to volunteer her time, citing “recent events.” Her appearance at committee came alongside former chair Michael Brind’Amour, who left the organization in August.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Tim Hortons media relations said the leadership changes are a “first step” towards Hockey Canada restoring faith and trust, but the fast food giant won’t consider reinstating support for the men’s programming “until we’re confident that progress is being made and Canadians once again believe in the organization’s leadership and its ability to do what’s right for the game we all love.”

The latest round of testimony also prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suggest that the organization could be replaced, saying it “boggles the mind that Hockey Canada is continuing to dig in its heels.”

On Tuesday, Trudeau said Smith’s ouster and the stepping down of the board is an important step forward, but “there is work to do to transform the culture at Hockey Canada.”

“There is an awful lot of work to ensure that the structures and systems that Hockey Canada has in place protects employees, protects Canadians, and protects our kids as they play hockey,” said the prime minister.

Reacting to Tuesday’s news, St-Onge said that Hockey Canada made “the right decision,” calling it “a step toward restoring Canadians’ confidence in the organization.”

“While we welcome this news, the interim management committee must be made up of people who want to make real change. 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,” she said in a statement. 

Other politicians echoed the minister’s sentiment, commenting on social media that it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did for Hockey Canada to make this move.

“I am hopeful that we will finally see meaningful changes to the governance, organization, and culture of Hockey Canada,” said Conservative MP John Nater, who has been among the main questioners of the organization throughout the House Canadian Heritage Committee’s hearings. “There is still much work to do.”

In a series of tweets, Bloc Quebecois MP and committee member Sebastien Lemire said the sweeping change at the top of Hockey Canada “finally gives us a serious chance of bringing about the long-requested and long-awaited culture change” within the organization.

Lemire attributed the move to the pressure put on Hockey Canada by parliamentarians, sponsors, the media, and the general public. He said that the Bloc will continue to push for a culture change within sports to ensure safe spaces for Canadian athletes.

Hockey Canada — which has hired a public relations firm to help navigate the controversy — has pledged to address safe sport concerns, has made changes to how it uses certain funding, and has appointed a former Supreme Court justice to conduct a governance review. It has also released an “action plan” outlining how they intend to deliver on this promised reform.

The national governing body for hockey in Canada said Tuesday that the interim management committee will “focus on day-to-day operations” as well as making sure progress is being made on its commitments, as well as implementing the recommendations that come from the governance review.

With files from CTV News’ Jennifer Ferreira, and The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 benefits helped economy rebound, but post-payment verification lacking: AG

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Canada’s auditor general says COVID-19 benefits were delivered quickly and helped mitigate economic suffering, however, the federal government hasn’t done enough to recover overpayments.

In a new report looking into the federal government’s delivery of pandemic benefits, Karen Hogan said the programs provided relief to workers and employers affected by the pandemic and helped the economy rebound.

At the same time, the auditor general says the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada have not followed up by verifying payments.

Hogan estimates $4.6 billion was paid to people who were not eligible, while another $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and businesses should be further investigated.

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“I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” Hogan said in a news release.

The audit found that efforts to recover overpayments have been limited, with the Canada Revenue Agency collecting $2.3 billion through voluntary repayments.

Pre-payment controls were also lacking, though the report said the federal government made some changes to those controls for individual benefits.

However, the CRA made few changes to improve prepayment controls for businesses to mitigate risks of overpayment.

Hogan also flagged that there was a lack of sufficient data to assess the effectiveness of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Although the subsidy did go to businesses in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, the report said the effect of the subsidy on business resilience is unclear because the agency collected limited data from businesses.

The auditor general has made a set of recommendations to the government to improve the collection of overpayments and to fix data gaps relating to businesses.

Government organizations reviewed in the audit say they have accepted the recommendations, though only partially accepted a recommendation related to recuperating overpayments.

The federal government said it would prioritize which to pursue by weighing the resources necessary with the amount owed.

“It would not be cost effective nor in keeping with international and industry best practices to pursue 100 per cent of all potentially ineligible claims,” the response said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

The Trudeau government is pledging to spend $15 million to remove mines in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the funding is meant to make the country safer after Russia has laid hundreds of the indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch says Ukrainian forces have also been laying anti-tank mines across the country.

Joly made the announcement on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines in most countries.

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Ottawa has so far provided Canadian-made bomb suits to help protect Ukrainian deminers and has plans to help fund remote-control systems to clear large areas such as farmlands.

Last month, Canada unveiled funding to remove both landmines and cluster bombs from parts of Southeast Asia that remain inaccessible decades after conflicts like the Vietnam War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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B.C.’s Julia Levy is Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar

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British Columbia’s newest Rhodes Scholar will pursue a master’s degree in computational chemistry, but she says it’s also an “incredible opportunity” as a trans woman to give back to her community.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy said she was “blown away” when she learned she was among 11 Canadians selected for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious such awards.

Levy, 24, will head to Oxford University in England next October for the fully funded scholarship, a prize she said carries a special meaning because she is the country’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar.

“I feel I am very, very proud being the first trans woman in Canada (to become a Rhodes Scholar),” said Levy, who made the transition from he to she three years ago.

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While the transition was a tough journey, Levy said she is aware of the many advantages she’s had.

“I think it’s really interesting to note that I am privileged in literally every other way, like my parents being supportive of my transition. I have always had financial stability and I grew up in a good part of Vancouver … maybe that’s the advantages that you need to equal out the trans part of it,” said Levy.

Levy, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a chemistry major and a minor in visual arts, described the scholarship as an “incredible opportunity and a gift,” equipping her with more knowledge and power to give back to the trans community.

“I feel my experiences of being trans and the ways that I have had to navigate the world being trans … has given me a lot of empathy for people in crisis and people who have difficulties in their lives,” said Levy.

“I know what it is to be at the bottom in some ways and my interest in harm reduction and trans care really all comes from that place of knowing what it’s like and wanting to reach out and help out where that’s possible.”

Levy is also a scientist, artist, activist, programmer, friend and daughter, she said.

“There are many parts of me that are equally important to who I am.”

University of Victoria chemistry professor Jeremy Wulff supervised Levy and said she was “destined for greatness,” bringing insights to projects that led to their success.

“I’m always excited when my students are recognized with awards and fellowships, but the Rhodes award is at a whole other level,” he said. “Julia is in excellent company amongst this group, and it’s absolutely where she belongs.”

Levy said magic can happen when you mix computation with chemistry.

In her second year at the University of Victoria, she found some classmates were struggling to picture molecules in their heads while doing peer teaching.

To help them visualize complex molecules, Levy created an augmented-reality app.

The app is a QR code in the workbook and allows the learner to see the molecule on their phone in three dimensions.

“You can work it with your phone and spin it around and zoom in and out,” said Levy.

She also worked as a technician with the university’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, a drop-in service where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis.

Levy said the experience used her chemistry skills in a “practical and socially active way” to help more people.

“It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” said Levy.

Levy, who was travelling in Germany during the interview, said she looks forward to being surrounded by the Rhodes community and “being challenged and pushed to new heights.”

“I hope I bring what makes me unique to Oxford, and that I am able to find a group of people, both personally and professionally, that celebrate that uniqueness,” said Levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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