Hockey Canada’s strategy of deflection serves none but its disgraced leadership

Witnesses Scott Smith, Hockey Canada President and Chief Operating Officer, left, and Hockey Canada Chief Financial Officer Brian Cairo, appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 27, 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A while back I had a job in a movie theater. The theater at the foot of an atrium in an open tower. We plebs could look up at the offices and corridors above, where the company’s big wigs worked.

The largest wig in the world often leaned over a balcony and stared down at us, like a pinstripe gargoyle. If you were caught snooping around, a phone call would be made and you would hear it.

One day there was commotion from several floors above – lots of screaming and banging. The largest wig was shot off. His response was to go back to his office and barricade himself inside.

The banging was security kicking the door. The screams were that he was being dragged to the elevators. It was a different time.

But the lesson in that is timeless. Nobody likes being canned. But those responsible are taking it very hard.

Right now, 2½ months after the Hockey Canada sex abuse scandal, we are in the barricade phase.

In any other country this would be over by now. A combination of popular outcry and political panic reportedly burned the Hockey Canada building to the ground.

But in this country, we continue to believe that shame will do the work for us. That the people responsible for this world-class gong show will get the message and sneak home.

But Hockey Canada’s leadership doesn’t work by Canadian rules. They pull from the American handbook on how to survive a scandal. Shamelessness is a condition.

Their first task was to deflect.

In terms of an absolute defense, the deflection has worked out just as well as a man trying to repel bullets by waving his hands around. But it has bought time. The men in charge knew they could count on Ottawa to a) promise to take decisive action quickly and b) take absolutely forever to decide what that decisive action would look like.

Deflection has another virtue: it dilutes indignation. As horrible as it is, people can only read about a story for so long without getting bored. And there is always a new indignation to distract us.

This week, Hockey Canada hired someone to lead an investigation into Hockey Canada’s operation. You could have written out this person’s resume long before the name was made public – retired judge, public service history, member of the new Family Compact, etc.

Finding people is not difficult. There’s a whole bunch of them twiddling their thumbs and itching for someone to hold a microphone in front of them.

But after two months of crushing pressure, Hockey Canada is just now figuring out who will set up the Slack group to discuss how to discuss their issues. Let me guess that if they had poured out money instead, organizing some sort of working committee would have taken two hours.

But this is how you do it, American style. Pretend it’s a live broadcast with screen time to fill before commercials – stretch. Keep talking about nothing. Don’t stop talking. It is the silence that kills.

As you stretch, keep your eye on the horizon. That’s where the sports are. If you can exercise, you might be fine. The same people who wanted to parade your head in the town square yesterday may be distracted by a waving flag.

The World Junior Hockey Championships begin in Edmonton on Tuesday. Over the weekend there will be a barrage of publicity about the tournament that has launched a thousand official denials. We’ll recap the details of this ugly affair and assess where we stand. This column is part of that.

By Tuesday, the usual outlets will be talking about hockey. What about Canada’s top line? Where is the United States? Where is the Olympic team going?

This is how you build a modern media barricade.

If you’ve seen a million of these things fail in the past few years, you know you’re not going to shy away from your problem.

In short, you were in positions of authority at a public institution when something horrific happened. The integrity of that institution cannot be maintained if you continue to lead it.

This is clear. But in our rush to finally get hold of anyone, anyone, we slipped past the obvious. Now we’re all deep in weeds, chopping away.

Uncovering the details of who said what to whom at which board meeting could occupy journalists and politicians, but it only serves Hockey Canada’s current leadership.

While we are Inspector Clouseau, we also avoid the obvious end point. The longer we do that, the more likely these fish will all go off the hook.

This was the goal all along. Bend over, go to the world juniors, hope Team Canada wins and everyone is too exhausted at the end to keep attacking you. By the time your judge finishes his report — let me guess ‘Mistakes have been made, but there’s a clear plan for the future’ — you may have successfully run your gauntlet.

It’s not a plan as such. As with Hockey Canada’s board meetings, no one wrote it down. It is an instinctive process based on observation. Both in scandals and in sports, the mission comes through today.

It’s not going to work. That is also clear. Whatever the final report says, it will reignite outrage.

The names of the players involved in the two alleged attacks will come out, likely during the NHL season. That will spark outrage again.

The alleged victims can make major public statements at any time. That will spark outrage again.

However you go, the outrage will leak out again. The only way to contain it is to blow it to the ground. Everyone will eventually realize that.

The only thing being decided now is how you want to get to the elevators – walk on your own, or get dragged there screaming through the rest of Canada.

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