Damien Cox: Hockey Canada is in desperate need of new leadership, and women demand a stake

Canada

Hockey Canada is trying desperately to convince the country and its outraged hockey community that it is fully capable of not only addressing past transgressions, but ensuring measures are put in place to make sure they never happen again.

Don’t buy it. At least, don’t buy that words and promises alone are enough to create change. Real change. Radical change.

Marie-Philip Poulin, perhaps the greatest clutch goal scorer the country has ever produced, doesn’t sound like she’s buying it.

“There is much more work and action needed to fully address the underlying issues in order to ensure that a new Hockey Canada emerges from this crisis,” Poulin wrote in a statement released Monday on behalf of the national women’s team. “We feel it is important to have women sitting at the table as the process evolves, and we urge you to include representatives from our group so that we can be informed and involved.”

The word “new,” by the way, was in bold. In other words, Poulin and our finest female hockey players believe, as athletes who have historically been denied an equitable voice in our national federation, that an entirely new organization needs to be born after sexual assault allegations involving members of at least two men’s world junior teams.

Not the same people. Not the same structure. Not the same philosophies.

See, it’s all well and good for embattled Hockey Canada boss Scott Smith to release an “action plan” as he did Monday to address “toxic behaviours” within the organization. But this is an organization that needs new blood and new ideas. It has been dominated by the same white male culture for as long as it has been in existence, and that culture has brought them to the edge of the abyss.

Hockey Canada, for many years, has solely defined excellence by gold medals won at international events. If Canadian teams are winning, then Hockey Canada is doing a great job. No questions asked.

Except Hockey Canada has quite clearly not been doing a great job in some fundamental areas. It can’t even start to move forward without an infusion of new people with a mandate to do things differently, and a keen understanding of why it is crucial to do so.

Moreover, there has to be a meaningful truth and reconciliation phase here. An organization that has had a multimillion-dollar legal fund used to pull a veil of secrecy over the actions of athletes has been at best reluctant, and at worst unwilling, to deliver the facts about incidents from the past.

Starting Tuesday, Hockey Canada officials will appear on Parliament Hill before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

“We intend to be part of the fight for the truth,” wrote Poulin. “All of the facts … must — and will — come to light. We join all Canadians in demanding a thorough and transparent investigation of the incidents in question as well as the structure, governance and environment that exists within the organization.”

This is not what Hockey Canada wants. It’s certainly not what the successful national junior program wants. Bringing forward all the facts is likely to be embarrassing for key figures, past and present. So, naturally they would prefer to move forward and position themselves as guardians of the sport who can be trusted to make sure the awful things that we’re just learning about don’t happen again.

“We recognize that there is an urgent need to address the types of behaviours that are rightly causing Canadians to question aspects of our game,” Smith wrote in a statement.

Actually, there was an urgent need many years ago, but Hockey Canada chose a different path: cover up, shut people up, use out-of-court settlements and nondisclosure agreements to keep things quiet and hope Canadians focus on winning, not the way winning is accomplished.

For several months, Hockey Canada hoped this storm would blow over. Only when that didn’t happen did the organization step forward with a proposal long on promises but very short on specifics, and promising no changes to the hierarchy.

Hockey Canada officials, you see, still want you to believe they know what they are doing. At their heart, however, these incidents are about institutional abuse of power.

Canada’s hockey women have a unique role to play, because women are all too familiar with power imbalances. Remember how the women’s world under-18 tournament was cancelled last year, but the men’s world juniors were cleared to proceed? You don’t leave those who have had the power in place to fix the problem; you bring in people who have lacked power until now, whose voices have not been heard.

Poulin made it clear that the women’s team should not have to bear the financial cost of the current scandal, including lost sponsorships and revenue from the federal government.

“This will surely impact the critical training and development funding that has allowed our women’s national teams to shine on the global hockey stage,” she wrote. “Our women’s program … intends to monitor this situation and all decisions connected to it closely.”

Starting Tuesday, Hockey Canada officials will appear on Parliament Hill before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. They’ll be asked again about a 2018 incident involving the world junior men’s team in London, and a 2003 incident from the Halifax world juniors. They need to have some real answers — not just legal answers, explanations of why action wasn’t taken and promises to do better.

They might even think about apologizing at some point.

The time for real change in Hockey Canada has arrived. Some of its most prominent athletes are demanding “the whole truth” and a role previously denied them in our national federation.

It seems the real “action plan” is yet to come.

Damien Cox is a former Star sports reporter who is a current freelance contributing columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @DamoSpin

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