The federal Minister for Sport is calling for more leadership changes at Hockey Canada after the chair of its board of directors resigned over the organization’s handling of sexual-assault allegations.
Michael Brind’Amour, who stepped down ahead of the end of his final term in November, said in a statement Saturday that “there is no need to wait for a new era.” He pointed to the need for immediate change to address the challenges the organization is facing.
“I would not be able to see this renewal through and therefore announced my resignation to the Board of Directors,” Mr. Brind’Amour said. Hockey Canada added in the statement that the board will meet in the coming days to determine next steps and appoint a new chair.
The national hockey federation has been under a microscope since it was revealed in late May that the organization had settled a lawsuit from a woman who alleged that eight Canadian Hockey League players sexually assaulted her after a Hockey Canada fundraising gala in London, Ont., in 2018. The players weren’t named in the lawsuit and haven’t been publicly identified, but they include members of that year’s Canadian world junior team.
In an e-mailed statement on Saturday, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge agreed with Mr. Brind’Amour’s call for immediate action, advocating for more diversity “to address the culture of silence and toxic masculinity within the organization and the sport.” She said she is still waiting to see more such changes at the top level of Hockey Canada.
“We are starting to see cracks in the fortress, that’s how the light gets in,” Ms. St-Onge said. “The leaders of the organization need to ask themselves if they are the right people to rebuild this trust.”
Hockey Canada chief executive officer Scott Smith, who has faced calls to step down, told the Canadian Heritage parliamentary committee probing the organization’s conduct in late July that he believed he still had the confidence of the board of directors and of member branches under the umbrella of the organization.
“I will not walk away from the demands you have rightly put before us,” Mr. Smith told the committee after several members suggested it was time for him to step down.
Hockey Canada representatives have testified twice before the Canadian Heritage committee. The Department of Canadian Heritage oversees Sport Canada, which provides funding to national sports organizations such as Hockey Canada. The federal government froze funding to the organization in June.
Testimony from Hockey Canada officials that month was criticized by several MPs as opaque, inconsistent and dismissive.
On the eve of the second hearings, in late July, Hockey Canada released a 19-page document outlining an action plan to address the code of silence and toxic behaviour in the sport. The plan includes a commitment to a third-party governance review.
Mr. Brind’Amour said in Saturday’s statement that a governance review of Hockey Canada by former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell will help bring change to the federation.
“I am confident the recommendations will guide the organization into a future of desired change,” Mr. Brind’Amour said.
On Friday, regional hockey federations across the country threatened to stop paying their dues to Hockey Canada unless it met with the provincial and territorial bodies and submitted progress reports on its efforts to change the organization.
The Granby Minor Hockey Association began the movement to withhold players’ registration fees from Hockey Canada last month after the GMHA’s board of directors agreed to take the request to Hockey Quebec.
On Saturday, François Lemay, a GMHA coach and a municipal councillor, said he believed Brind’Amour’s resignation was needed.
“Things are going fast but I think they are going in the right direction,” Mr. Lemay said. “It was the honourable thing to do. I may be naive, but I think maybe it is the beginning of a new era.”
He said the remaining members of the Hockey Canada board will continue to be under scrutiny.
Theresa Bailey, the founder of Canadian Hockey Moms, an organization with more than 40,000 members, said change cannot be limited to the leadership level.
“If it’s just a shuffle, it’s probably not going to amount to much,” Ms. Bailey said. “I still think the right direction is for there to be conversations at all levels, from players to coaches to the associations. It is a matter of asking all the right questions.”
In recent weeks, investigations into the 2018 sexual-assault allegations have been reopened by London police and by Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison, which was retained by Hockey Canada to conduct a third-party probe into what happened after the gala. A police probe was halted in 2019 because the woman declined to speak with investigators; her lawyer says she will participate this time.
While players were not compelled to co-operate with the third-party probe back in 2018, the organization now says if players don’t participate, they will be banned from Hockey Canada programs for life.
With a report from Kathryn Blaze Baum
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.