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 vacate 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.
CBC News has confirmed that Hockey Canada’s board and its provincial members have a conference call scheduled for 5 p.m. ET. Thursday ahead of an in-person meeting set for Oct 15.
The news of the meeting was first reported by TSN.
Earlier Thursday, Canadian Tire announced it is permanently ending its partnership with Hockey Canada.
WATCH | Hockey Canada leaders need to leave before they ‘burn’ the organization ‘to the ground:’ St-Onge
Sport Minister Pascale St Onge weighs in on sponsors pulling out of 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, Thursday.
“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.”
Telus, which was considered a “premier” sponsor, pulled the plug earlier that morning, saying 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.”
Sobeys and Skip the Dishes, a food delivery app, also announced Thursday they are cutting ties. In a media statement, the grocery store chain said it was “disgusted by all of the allegations and, as importantly, Hockey Canada’s unwillingness to make meaningful change.”
Imperial Oil also said it will not support Hockey Canada men’s programs through its Esso brand in the 2022-2023 season.
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.
Hockey Canada is planning to host the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton, N.B., from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
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 Estateidentified 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.”
WATCH | ‘Hockey Canada has lost the confidence of Canadians,’ Trudeau says
As Hockey Canada continues to lose sponsors, including Telus and Tim Hortons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s time for an overhaul of the organization’s leadership.
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.”
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:
Pascale St-Onge says she’s saddened Andrea Skinner, interim chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors, is the face of its ‘boys’ club problem.’
Both Pepsi and Scotiabank have said their June decisions 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.
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.
Hockey New Brunswick and Hockey NL said they are waiting for the results of a review by former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell, who Hockey Canada hired to lead a review of the organization’s governance structure.
The review is expected to provide interim recommendations before Hockey Canada’s annual general meeting in November.
Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.
Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.
The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.
“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”
Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.
“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.
“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”
“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.
Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.
Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.
“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”
He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”
“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”
Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.
We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.
Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.
I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.
I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.
But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.
Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.
And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.
The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”
Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).
A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.
“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.
A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.
OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.
Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.
“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.
“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”
On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.
Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.
The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.
“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.
She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.
But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.
“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.
Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.
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