With the benefit of time and hindsight, former Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson voiced regrets today about some of the processes in place and a lack of transparency during his 16-year tenure atop the organization. Specifically, in relation to how cases of sexual assault from 2003 and 2018 involving junior players and making headlines now were handled.
Nicholson, CEO from 1998 to 2014, testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of its examination of HC in the wake of accusations of sexual assault involving players from the 2018 world junior team and of allegations of a 2003 gang rape involving CHL players. As part of that, revelations about funds used to settle sexual assault cases have become known, as has the existence of non-disclosure agreements
As a result of the ongoing scandals and subsequent investigation, Hockey Canada’s board of directors resigned and the organization has lost about $24 million in sponsorship as long-term partners have withdrawn financial support. More important, we’ve yet to see exactly how HC will move forward. That will be determined in large part by the findings of the governance review conducted by Justice Thomas Cromwell.
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For Nicholson’s part, he opined more than once during almost two hours of testimony that he and the board members of HC didn’t do as thorough a job as they could have in dealing with and following up on the incidents in question – Nicholson was not part of Hockey Canada when allegations about 2018 came out.

TOUGH CROWD

Committee member Sebastien Lemire went right at Nicholson in his first round of questions: “You contributed to creating the toxic culture, in my view,” he said. “For different reasons and perhaps for some bad reasons, what we are noticing in hindsight is that you, in essence, were the architect of this culture (with) the passiveness and the culture of silence, the cover-up culture. My question is, what is the legacy you left at Hockey Canada?”
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To that, Nicholson responded in part: “I really felt the legacy I left was we had way more grassroots programs to include young boys and girls to play in the game. We reached out across the country to make that happen . . .”

MORE WORK TO DO

In his opening remarks before taking questions from the committee, Nicholson said in part: “Let me say up front that the allegations about the incidents at the 2018 gala and at the 2003 World Junior Tournament are an outrage. That kind of conduct has no place in our game or our society. I hope both cases are investigated fully, and that justice is done.”
Nicholson referred to the Graham James case and the sexual abuse of Sheldon Kennedy. “I’m proud of the progress we made. It is clear that we didn’t go nearly far enough – particularly regarding off-ice conduct. It is perhaps the failure to see that then that brings us here today. As a sport, we all have a lot more work to do to ensure that we have a culture in hockey where everyone feels safe and welcome . . .”
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As one example of flawed procedure, Anthony Housefather of the committee asked Nicholson for an explanation as to why there were no written guidelines during his tenure about what people at HC should do when a claim of sexual harassment was made. “You would think this would be one of the first things that you would have your organization put in place,” Housefather said.
“That question, you know what? I wish I could go back,” said Nicholson. “I wish I could have put more policies in. My job as CEO was to really run the operation. Policies came from the board. I’m not deflecting that back to the board. I was CEO and I should have been encouraging more policies. When I listen to yourselves speak and others speak, it was something I would have liked to have done and I didn’t and I’m sorry about that.”
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THE BOTTOM LINE

It is obvious there’s a lot of work to do to make things right at Hockey Canada and for the people it oversees moving forward. We’re here today because could have, should have and would have doesn’t address structures and processes that have obviously been broken at Hockey Canada for a very long time. 
Regrets after the fact, like those expressed by Nicholson today, aren’t remotely close to being good enough. What the game and the people involved in it need moving forward is meaningful change. That long overdue process continues.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

In addition to Nicholson’s testimony, Hockey Canada senior vice-president of strategy Pat McLaughlin testified that HC has paid $1.6 million to crisis management firm Navigator since July as it dealt with mounting scandals that saw government and sponsorship dollars paused or cut off entirely. McLaughlin said no public funds have been used to pay Navigator.
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