Former Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson grilled as hearings resume

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage this week continued its hearings on Hockey Canada’s potential involvement in several alleged sexual assaults over the past two decades.

Former Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson, who held the position from 1998 to 2014, and Hockey Canada’s current Senior Vice President, Strategy, Operations and Brand, Pat McLaughlin, faced questioning related to the National Equity Fund, nondisclosure agreements, the hiring of crisis management firm Navigator, and perceptions of hockey’s toxic culture.

“I wish I could go back, I wish I could have put more policies in,” Nicholson, who currently serves as the CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group said of the absence of policy and protocol related to allegations of sexual assault within the organization.

“My job as CEO was to really run the operations; policies came from the board, and I’m not deflecting that back to the board, I was the CEO and I should have been encouraging more policies…it was something I would have liked to have done, I didn’t, and I’m sorry about that.”

As members of parliament present stated, however, Nicholson deserves to shoulder a portion of the blame for failed or non-existant policy, and for the creation of funds to settle sexual assault claims.

“You contributed to creating the toxic culture…, we are noticing in hindsight is that you were in a sense the architect of this culture…the culture of silence and the cover up culture,” said Bloc Quebecois MP Sebastien Lemire.

Former Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
Former Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Following the revelations of alleged gang sexual violence in 2003 and 2018, Hockey Canada hired crisis management firm Navigator to help guide the organization. Pat McLaughlin confirmed that Hockey Canada has paid $1.6 million to Navigator since the allegations came to light. It’s a sum NDP MP Peter Julian felt was abhorrent.

“I find it outrageous that $1.6 million was spent for Navigator with such a disastrous public relations strategy,” he said during the meeting.

McLaughlin also confirmed the predicted financial impact to Hockey Canada related to sponsors departing or disassociating from the organization to be near $24 million this year. The fear from McLaughlin, was that although some sponsors have stated they will be repositioning funds to para and women’s hockey, that the losses will still be impactful to the game.

“We’re very appreciative of the repositioning of the dollars, the reality is that’s not a dollar for dollar, it’s cents on the dollar, so it comes at a significant cost to us, without question,” said McLaughlin.

While investigations are still ongoing, perpetrators of the alleged 2018 sexual assault remain unnamed. It’s a group that potentially involves several current NHL players. While none of those potential players are on Nicholson’s Edmonton Oilers, he believes the league itself is doing what they can.

“I can tell you, I know there’s an investigation going on by the NHL, I’m not privy to that information that they’re doing, that will be dealt with at the National Hockey League office,” said Nicholson of that process. “I think the National Hockey League office over the last while has dealt with those situations as swiftly as they can.”

“I can tell you that if one of those players from 2018 were on the Edmonton Oilers, which there isn’t, we would have to look at that very closely and get all the information and make the appropriate decision.”

While the Standing Committee admonished Nicholson’s role, and Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual violence, Nicholson himself stated he hopes the conduct ends, and that victims receive justice.

“That kind of conduct has no place in our game or our society,” he said. “I hope both cases are investigated fully and justice is done.”

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