What is Hockey Canada and why does it matter?

Hockey Canada is at the centre of a devastating sexual assault scandal that has shaken Canadian trust in the sport and its institutions.

The sports organization settled a lawsuit with a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by eight players from the Canadian Hockey League in London, Ont., in 2018 — and several other allegations of group sexual assaults by Canadian hockey players have surfaced.

In July, Hockey Canada’s executives revealed that the organization has paid $8.9 million in settlements to 21 sexual assault complainants since 1989, using a slush fund comprising membership fees from young players across Canada.

The fallout has been extraordinary. On Saturday, Hockey Canada interim board chair Andrea Skinner submitted her resignation, CBC News confirmed.

As the country’s national self-governing body for amateur hockey, Hockey Canada is responsible for managing and expanding hockey programs across the country at all playing levels — from the local grassroots all the way to the World Championships and Olympics.

“I think this is a pivotal point in Canadian history,” Laura Robinson, a sports journalist and the author of Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada’s National Sport, told CBC News on Friday.

But what does that really mean? CBC News explains the organization’s role in the Canadian hockey landscape.

What is Hockey Canada?

Hockey Canada has a range of goals and responsibilities, according to its bylaws and regulations.

For one, it establishes a set of playing rules for amateur hockey games across the country, so that every game and practice under its umbrella is played at the same standard. It promotes the sport around Canada and arranges for national teams to play in international tournaments.

It also provides training to hockey players, coaches and referees, and raises money and redistributes those funds to local hockey clubs and member associations, among other things.

WATCH | Laura Robinson explains Hockey Canada’s role in the sport:

What is Hockey Canada’s role in the sport?

Laura Robinson, a sports journalist who wrote a book about hazing and sexual assault in Canadian junior hockey, discusses the role Hockey Canada plays in the sport across the country amid ongoing controversy involving the organization.

But it also represents Canada in the wider hockey world as a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, a worldwide governing body that develops and organizes the sport of ice hockey around the globe.

The Canadian organization has existed in various forms and under different names for 108 years.

“Before Hockey Canada, there was the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association [CAHA] and the Canadian Hockey Association. But in those days you couldn’t have a professional player play in an amateur association,” Robinson said.

In 1998, Hockey Canada — as we know it today — was formed after a merger with the CAHA.

Who are its members?

Two players wearing Canadian Hockey League jerseys are pictured. Many of Hockey Canada’s 13 branch members are now distancing themselves from the organization as its mishandling of sexual abuse claims comes to light. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

Hockey Canada has 13 member branches, each of which represent a province or region in Canada, with some exceptions. Ontario is represented by three different branches, for example, while Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon are represented by Hockey North.

All of these member organizations must conform to certain rules and regulations decided by Hockey Canada — it’s a condition they agree to in order to join the club, according to the constitution’s bylaws.

Many of these branch members are now distancing themselves from Hockey Canada, as the organization’s mishandling of sexual abuse claims comes to light.

There are also 12 partner organizations that have a significant stake in the game of hockey in Canada, such as the National Hockey League; U Sports, which oversees university-level sports in Canada; and the Canadian Hockey League, of which the players involved in the alleged 2018 group sexual assault were members.

Money from Hockey Canada’s National Equity Fund was used to pay settlements to some of the alleged victims.

What does that mean for players?

If you compete in a sport at the local level, “you have to belong to your provincial body, which belongs to the national body,” Robinson told CBC News.

“If an athlete has a dream to go to the World [Championships] or the Olympics, they have to belong to that national organization. And in this case, it’s Hockey Canada.”

Local players in Canada who belong to a team or league affiliated with a provincial organization have access to Hockey Canada’s National Insurance Program.

According to Hockey Saskatchewan’s website, the 13 member organizations are “specifically named as an insured, and all sub-associations, leagues and teams which form a part of Hockey Canada.”

So if a player is injured while participating in a game or a practice sanctioned by Hockey Canada, they are covered by insurance. That’s why some of the 13 member groups are withholding $3 membership fees (which go toward what Hockey Canada says are operational costs) but are continuing to pay insurance fees.

How is Hockey Canada’s board of directors elected?

Andrea Skinner, interim chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors until she submitted her resignation on Saturday, defended the organization during an appearance before the House of Commons heritage committee on Tuesday. (Courtesy airdberlis.com)

Hockey Canada’s board of directors is made up of volunteers nominated and elected by their peers in the provincial member organizations. The current directors are from Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.

Skinner — who made a controversial appearance during a meeting of the House of Commons heritage committee on Tuesday, when she defended the organization — was filling in as interim chair of the board after former chair Michael Brind’amour stepped down in August.

Where does Hockey Canada get its funding from?

Until recently, Hockey Canada received funding from the federal government; through membership fees and  provincial grants; and from grassroots fundraising and sponsorships.

Much of that is now up in the air, with major sponsors such as Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire and Nike cutting ties with Hockey Canada.

In June, federal Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge froze Hockey Canada’s funding from the federal government. The organization received a total of $14 million from Ottawa in 2020 and 2021.

But at the grassroots level, people have bake sales and bottle drives to fund amateur sport in Canada. “Hockey, on the ground floor, it’s volunteers,” Robinson said.

“That’s something Hockey Canada really has to address, in my mind: Have they taken advantage of these volunteers?”