Quebec launches hearings into allegations of 'horrific' abuse in major junior hockey
Committee will hear from representatives on 'toxic culture' of violence in sport
WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
The Quebec National Assembly will begin hearings today into allegations of violence and hazing in the world of major junior hockey.
This comes after claimants tried to launch a class-action suit against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and other leagues and teams, saying they were responsible for a "toxic culture" and a "culture of silence" that hides predatory violence, hazing, bullying, harassment, and assaults.
On Feb. 3 Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perrell refused to certify a class-action launched in 2020 with two former junior league players as lead plaintiffs: Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor.
A third plaintiff, Stephen Quirk, who is a former QMJHL player, later joined Carcillo and Taylor in the lawsuit.
The suit covered events in the QMJHL, the Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League, going back to May 8, 1975 — the date the Canadian Hockey League was founded.
Justice Perrell described the evidence from Quirk, Carcillo and Taylor and other former players who submitted written statements as "horrific."
Judge calls plaintiffs 'genuine heroes'
Carcillo, Taylor, and Quirk had claims against five hockey teams — the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Prince Albert Raiders, the Sarnia Sting, the Moncton Wildcats and the Halifax Mooseheads.
The Halifax and Moncton teams belong to the QMJHL, which in addition to its teams in Quebec, operates six teams in the Maritimes.
Perrell described the three men as part of a group of elite athletes who left their families and hometowns to join teams with the hope of improving their skills.
Although the judge called the former players "genuine heroes" he said they failed to provide a "workable litigation plan," and for that reason denied their request to certify a class-action lawsuit.
He said it was not conceivable that a singular class-action would deal with the "evil that has persisted for half a century in amateur hockey."
'I do not want any other child to go through what I did'
As part of the decision, Perrell included the testimony of six unnamed former hockey players all of whom described months of abuse they endured as rookies on various teams.
A former hockey player identified as "AA" said the general manager of his hockey team told him not to be a "pussy" when the hazing got bad. He recalled getting jumped by veteran players in the locker room.
A player identified as "FF" said the coaches did not intervene.
"This happened in the showers, on the bus, or elsewhere. The coaches and team staff saw and knew," said FF, adding that after he was traded, he experienced the same type of hazing.
"My time in major junior hockey has left me mentally scarred. I've lived with it my whole life […], but I cannot keep it secret anymore. I live with anxiety every day. I used to have nightmares, which I rarely have any more, but my anxiety is always there …. My story has been extremely difficult but am telling it because I do not want any other child to go through what I did."
Legault asked QMJHL 'to explain themselves'
Last week, Premier François Legault said the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League could not remain silent. He called the abuse detailed by the judge "very serious."
Isabelle Charest, the provincial minister responsible for sports, said reports of the abuse had left her speechless.
Charest said the independent complaints officer's mandate is to handle situations such as this one and noted that all sports federations must have a policy of integrity in place that ensures the environment is "free of abuse, harassment and intimidation."
She said that funding for the federations is linked to them enforcing their integrity policies.
'We don't want those kinds of players in our league': QMJHL official
Maxime Blouin, director of communications and head of diversity and inclusion at the QMJHL, said the league should have spoken out sooner following the decision on the class-action lawsuit.
He told CBC radio's Breakaway on Feb. 14, that these "horror stories" are completely unacceptable.
"If [players] witness those kind of events they have to speak up with us, with the police because those are criminal acts," said Blouin.
He said the players who committed those acts are the ones who should be held accountable for the culture of abuse. He says some of it is rooted in toxic masculinity.
"You don't have to be that kind of a man to be part of a hockey team. That's not what we want for sports in 2023," Blouin said.
"Because I was with some parents yesterday saying: 'I don't want my kid, my son or my daughter to play hockey anymore when I read that' and that's the image we want to change. We don't want those kinds of players in our league."
He said he is confident this won't happen again because they now have mandatory training at the beginning of the season which includes videos, conferences and a visit by a police officer who explains the rules and laws to the players.
As the hearings get underway on Wednesday, the commission will hear from representatives from QMJHL, the Canadian Hockey League, Hockey Quebec and the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec.
A representative from McGill University will also be present after several MNAs criticized the university's initial refusal to participate in the committee hearings.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.
With files from the Canadian Press and Radio-Canada