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Hockey Canada executives need to leave before they 'burn' the organization 'to the ground,' minister says

Hockey Canada executives need to leave before they 'burn' the organization 'to the ground,' minister says

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 had 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 | Minister hopes for leadership change:

"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 2022-23 season.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Chris Wattie/Reuters

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 Estate identified 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."

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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.

WATCH | Time for an overhaul, PM says:

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."

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 | List grows of corporate sponsors cutting ties with Hockey Canada: 

Both Pepsi and Scotiabank have said their earlier decisions to pause support to Hockey Canada remain 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.

Three provincial hockey organizations also have made moves against the national body.

Hockey Nova Scotia said Thursday it would suspend the transfer of player fees to Hockey Canada.

A statement released after an emergency meeting of the Hockey Nova Scotia board of directors said the provincial organization "has lost confidence in Hockey Canada's senior leadership," and that change is needed at the highest level of the governing body.

Earlier this week, Hockey Quebec said it, too, 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.