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Manipulation, omerta and the horrible culture of junior hockey

At the start of the summer of 2020, things were really bad for the leaders of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), which consists of the Western Junior League (WHL), the Ontario Junior League (OHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (LHJMQ).

Denunciations and allegations of intimidation and physical, psychological and sexual abuse committed against players followed one another in the media. And in court, ex-NHL player Daniel Carcillo, who played his junior hockey in the OHL, and ex-WHL player Garrett Taylor filed a class action lawsuit containing absolutely shocking allegations. .

This class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of former minor players (15-17 years old) who had played major junior hockey over the years. She alleged that the CHL and the three junior leagues had been complicit in the degrading initiations, intimidation and abuse of underage players for decades.

During his rookie season in Sarnia, in 2002-2003, Carcillo told in particular to have been beaten with sticks by his older teammates and to have been the victim of degrading acts. All this, in full view of the leaders of his team.

He alleged in particular that the veterans of the training had forced the eight recruits of the group to sit on the floor of the shower. And then the veterans urinated and spat on their new teammates.

Carcillo’s horror story, which was much longer and more detailed, had been corroborated by one of his former teammates, ex-NHL player Dan Fritsche.

We were 16-17 years old. I think about it today and it makes me sick. Makes you feel like killing someoneFritsche testified.

Garrett Taylor, for his part, was a rookie in the 2008-2009 edition of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

He maintained that his coach at the time, Michael Dyck, asked him to fight with his other 16-17 year old teammates during practices in order to raise the level of intensity.

According to Taylor, Dyck also gave his credit card to the veterans so they could buy booze and throw a party where the recruits had to dress like women and drink heavily, some to the point. to lose consciousness.

Hurricanes recruits, according to court documents, were daily subjected to racist, sexist and homophobic slurs.

This is just a thin summary of the class action lawsuit filed by Carcillo and Taylor. Nevertheless, it helps to understand how nightmarish the summer of 2020 was for the leaders of the three Canadian major junior hockey leagues. And that explains why the latter reacted promptly by announcing, by press release, the formation of a independent review committee.

This committee, they promised, would be tasked with reviewing the CHL’s practices regarding rape, abuse, harassment and intimidation.

We are deeply troubled by the allegations contained in the recent class action lawsuit, most of which are historic by their very nature, but we believe these do not reflect the overall experience our players are having in the CHL today.the statement said.

Regardless of when, we take these allegations very seriously, as the protection of our players has been, and still is, our primary concern.

At the same time as this press release was published, three highly credible personalities were asked to form the independent committee and to paint a picture of the true state of the culture and mores of Canadian major junior hockey.

These personalities were the former premier of New Brunswick Camille Thériault, the ex-head coach of the national women’s team Danièle Sauvageau as well as the ex-hockey player of the NHL Sheldon Kennedy.

In the mid-1990s, Sheldon Kennedy shook the hockey world by denouncing sexual abuse committed against him by his former junior coach, Graham James. It later emerged that a Kennedy teammate, former NHL hockey player Theoren Fleury, had also been a victim of James.

Former National Hockey League (NHL) player Sheldon Kennedy

Photo: Radio-Canada / Tyson Koschik

After his hockey career, Kennedy devoted himself to the cause of preventing child abuse and raising public awareness of this scourge. To highlight his immense contribution to society, universities awarded him honorary doctorates. He was also decorated with the Order of Canada.

We can therefore easily conclude that if Kennedy had agreed to put his credibility on the line by sitting on this independent committeeit was to help young people and to help change the sad culture of hockey.

As requested, the three members of the independent committee carefully carried out their work. They interviewed agents, former and active players, owners, team managers and representatives of the three junior hockey leagues.

The committee members consulted the complaints officially filed with the three leagues in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The committee also had access to a Léger survey conducted among some 650 people with direct ties to junior hockey. We are talking here about general managers, coaches, team employees, players and members of the players’ families.

In November 2020, Camille Thériault, Danièle Sauvageau and Sheldon Kennedy presented CHL leaders with a report titled The impact is real, action is neededs. Committee members then met with CHL leaders, to whom they made no less than 13 recommendations. They explained their approach and the discoveries they had made. And they answered many questions.

The report commissioned by the CHL to supposedly shed light on hockey culture was not candy pink. Far from there. His main conclusion was that bad behavior has become a cultural norm in junior hockey. It explained that mistreatment that would be unacceptable in society is rooted in the organizational hierarchy and too often tolerated.

The report also revealed, and it is very important to underline this, that a law of silence reigns, and that this omerta prevents athletes from denouncing the abuses of which they are victims. The reasons for this law of silence can be explained by a fear of retaliation or punishment, by an imbalance of power and by loyaltythe report noted.

If the athlete thinks he will be traded if he dares to report abusive behavior, he is living in an extremely unhealthy environment.

Absolutely horrifying figures were also put forward. The survey revealed that 52% of families, 32% of players and 25% of coaches believed that bullying exists in the CHL. In addition, 45% of players who responded to the survey said they had heard of cases of bullying and harassment that had occurred in their environment, and these stories had not been reported by the media.

In short, the committee’s report was along the same lines as the class action suit, which had supposedly deeply troubled the CHL in early summer 2020. And the committee members were certainly expecting a strong reaction from the junior hockey leagues since the protection of their players was supposed to be their main concern.

But what happened after the report was tabled? Nothing. No sound. No picture.

The document was placed in a filing cabinet and, until last week, the public, league players and their parents were never informed of its contents!

For this report to finally see the light of day, it took James Sayce, the lawyer representing Dan Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, appearing before an Ontario Superior Court judge last December 1. Me Sayce then asked the Court to force the LCH to publish the report and the judge agreed with the plaintiffs.

Backed against the wall, the leaders of the CHL then tried to drown the fish. They turned to a Toronto law firm, Turpenney Milne, and asked them to produce another report and make more recommendations!

Last Friday, therefore, the CHL released Turpenney Milne’s report in its entirety, while the report prepared in 2020 by Camille Thériault, Danièle Sauvageau and Sheldon Kennedy was camouflaged in a tiny and discreet hyperlink inserted in the second of the seven pages of ‘A press release.

In their statement, CHL leaders had the nerve to point out that the majority of the committee’s recommendations (Thériault-Sauvageau-Kennedy) have been implemented or are about to be implemented.

I would like it to be explained to us which of these recommendations have been applied.asked a source familiar with the matter.

I’ve saved the most mind-boggling for last.

Since last week, journalists from across the country have been calling Camille Thériault, Danièle Sauvageau and Sheldon Kennedy to get their comments on the content of their report and how this important document was handled by the leaders of the three leagues. Canadian.

However, the members of this committee, which we believed to be independent, replied that the CHL forbids them to comment on the report they wrote! They are muzzled.

In short, when the pot was heating up and the CHL needed to protect its image, it did not hesitate to cling to the immense credibility that committee members enjoy in society. But because the conclusions and recommendations they made are considered inconvenient, they are now forbidden to speak!

So here are three exemplary citizens who wanted to help young people and advance hockey, and who realize that they have been used as puppets.

If ridicule killed, the CHL president (Dan MacKenzie) and the commissioners of the western leagues (Ron Robison), Ontario (David Branch) and the QMJHL (Gilles Courteau) would all have died at the actual hour. The way they concealed this report proves the committee members completely right: there is indeed a code of silence in the world of junior hockey. And this omerta is applied to the top of the hierarchy.

By acting as they have done, CHL leaders are also vindicating players who are afraid to speak out against abuse. Because they have just shown them that instead of solving important problems when they arise, the adults who should normally help them prefer to drown the fish.

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