Ottawa warned Hockey Canada about its approach to conflicts of interest, report says

For two years running, the federal government has raised concerns with Hockey Canada about accountability and transparency after learning its board of directors failed to track and monitor all conflict of interest cases, CBC News has learned.

Ottawa began grading national sport organizations on “good governance” issues in 2019. In its June 2022 report, it gave Hockey Canada the lowest grade possible because the board of directors manages conflicts of interest on an informal basis.

The score given was one out of five, which the government called “insufficient.”

The government’s June progress report concluded Hockey Canada had failed to prove it had made any changes since 2021 to improve its approach to conflicts of interest.

As of June, the report said, the hockey organization had a policy in place that required the board of directors to report any real, perceived or possible conflicts of interest. But it did not have a policy in place for staff and volunteers.

The 2022 report also said Hockey Canada’s board of directors failed to record conflicts of interest in its board meeting minutes, didn’t introduce a system to appropriately monitor and manage all conflict cases and made no commitment to consult with experts about best practices.

CBC News obtained the government’s “report cards” through access to information law after the government refused to share the documents this summer at the height of the Hockey Canada scandal. The government said the reports were subject to confidentiality agreements and could not be shared.

Four middle-aged men in suits sit side by side at a table in front of microphones.
Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith, second from right, and the entire board of directors left the board after a retired Supreme Court justice recommended they do so as part of his review of the organization’s shaky leadership. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In June — when Hockey Canada received its most recent progress report from the federal government — Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge announced she was freezing the hockey organization’s federal funding in response to its handling of sexual assault allegations.

That same month, a parliamentary committee grilled Hockey Canada executives about their handling of a $3.5 million lawsuit alleging a group of players — including members of the World Junior team — sexually assaulted a woman in London, Ont. hotel room in 2018.

Poor report cards don’t affect federal funding

The 208-page document obtained by CBC News includes full copies of all three report cards issued to Hockey Canada since Ottawa started conducting the reviews in 2019. The federal government requires national sport organizations to share evidence showing whether they’re meeting a series of safe sports and governance criteria.

Sport Canada, a branch of Heritage Canada that produces the reports and provides federal funding to sports organizations, wrote in the document that these evaluations are meant to “advise senior leadership on system-wide pressures.”

The results of the annual progress reports do not affect how much federal funding a sports organization gets, the document said — no matter how low it scores. Sport Canada said in the report that poor results can lead the government to redirect resources to address gaps.

The first report card released in 2019 gave Hockey Canada a failing grade (1 out of 5) for having a board of directors made up entirely of men.

On average, other national Sport organizations had boards composed of 66 percent men and 34 percent women, according to the 2019 progress report.

Photo of hockey canada's board of directors in 2018 made up entirely of men
A governance review in 2019 flagged the lack of gender parity on Hockey Canada’s board. (Hockey Canada)

It wasn’t until a report commissioned by Hockey Canada recommended gender parity that a new board of directors was selected earlier this month — made up of five women and four men.

The 2019 report card said Hockey Canada did not have a third-party in place to receive reports of harassment, abuse, discrimination and maltreatment.

This summer, St-Onge told Hockey Canada to sign on with the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) in order to receive federal funding again. Hockey Canada did so in October and now the office will independently oversee and investigate complaints involving mistreatment or abuse in hockey.

The documents show Sport Canada’s progress report in 2021 focused on good governance.

The Globe and Mail first reported Hockey Canada’s board of directors received a poor grade on conflict of interest and strategic planning in 2021 that was lower than those given to other national sport organizations.

The 2022 report card shows the hockey organization is still lagging behind its counterparts in those two key areas the Globe and Mail identified.

In a statement sent to CBC News, Hockey Canada said it scored above average in seven of the nine categories in the latest progress report.

“It is important to note, the average score in the Conflict of Interest category across all NSOs [national sports organizations] was just 1.4, suggesting it as an area for improvement across the sector,” wrote the Hockey Canada spokesperson.

The hockey organization said it has a system in place to monitor board directors’ conflicts of interest and is committed to making more changes to improve its governance.

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