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New Hockey Canada boss Katherine Henderson calls Calgary summit humbling

CALGARY — Hockey Canada's new leader called what she heard at its summit humbling and eye-opening.
The new head of Hockey Canada called what she heard at its summit humbling and eye-opening. A Hockey Canada logo is seen on the door to the organizations head office in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Hockey Canada's new leader called what she heard at its summit humbling and eye-opening.

Katherine Henderson took over as president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada this summer amid calls for culture change in both the organization and the sport. She was previously Curling Canada's CEO.

The two-day Beyond The Boards Summit — that fell within Henderson's first official week on the job — examined toxic masculinity in the elite men's game as a root cause of racism, sexism, homophobia and discrimination in the sport.

"It was very eye-opening to see how many people were willing to put their mistakes on the table, to be vulnerable about things that maybe they're not proud of in the past," Henderson said Saturday.

"When I talk about humility and vulnerability, there were a lot of people in the room, I would say the men in particular, that were examining who they were, what they brought to the table and how they contributed to the culture."

The 160 attendees included hockey leaders from "pond to pro", Hockey Canada chief operating officer Pat McLaughlin said.

The audience heard from Bill Proudman, who co-founded White Men as Full Diversity Partners and has also worked with the NHL, as well as federal sports minister Carla Qualtrough.

Former NHL player and sexual abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy, who has advocated for child abuse education and prevention for 27 years, was also among the speakers.

"We're not winning gold medals off the ice in this space just yet," McLaughlin told attendees Saturday. "We need to learn from others. We need to deliver. That's outcome No. 1."

Kennedy said all organizations under the hockey umbrella must communicate and work together in making psychological and physical safety a priority at the rink.

He's says he's been able to help police, government and schools develop integrated strategies around child safety and hockey can do that too.

Kennedy gave the analogy of forwards, defence, goaltenders and coaches all staying in different hotels and plotting their own strategies, and then trying to win a road game.

"People don't know how to work together," he said. "None of these people talk to each other and you wonder why kids fall through the cracks?"

Workshop sessions and panel discussions were closed to working media.

"What I found refreshing here is that this group has the skill, the willingness and the ability to sort of continue to remake the culture of not just Hockey Canada, but the culture of hockey," Proudman told reporters outside the conference room. 

"It's a heavy lift because that doesn't happen by flicking a switch and turning the light on in a room. It happens little by little over time and it's a little bit like player safety. You're never going to be done with it."

Hockey Canada came under pressure to change its culture and that of hockey following reports and allegations of sexual assaults and hazing.

A firestorm of criticism landed on the organization last year when it became public that Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with a woman alleging she was gang raped by members of the national men's junior team at a gala in 2018.

The allegations have not been proven in court. 

Revelations that a portion of minor hockey registration fees were used to settle such lawsuits fuelled the furor, and Hockey Canada lost sponsorships in the fallout.

"I can't personally comment on 2018. I haven't been briefed on that," Henderson said. "I believe that as a national governing body, we are accountable to the Canadian people, we are accountable to our members. 

"What my job is at this point is to be both accountable, but also to be accountable to the future to make sure that things like that do not happen again."

A Heritage standing committee unanimously passed a motion in March demanding that Hockey Canada provide the final report from an independent law firm hired to investigate the allegations involving the 2018 junior team.

Henderson said her understanding was the report has "not been handed over yet, because it is still in camera and being examined by an independent third party."

No formal recommendations were tabled at the summit's conclusion Saturday. Hockey Canada intends the summit to be one in a series to tackle the sport's issues.

"I'm not sure I can give you a journey map or a project plan right now," Henderson said. "We have to take the time to ingest what we heard. The journey is towards much better hockey, that gives all Canadians who want a hockey experience a positive hockey experience. 

"If there are people that want to go along on that journey, please come along. We want you there. 

"If there are people that that is not their ultimate goal, we don't want them on the journey. If that is not what they want for hockey, we don't want them."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press