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Quebec major junior hockey to introduce 'locker room code' to prevent violent hazing

QUEBEC — The head of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League said Wednesday he will introduce measures to combat a "culture of silence" that exists in locker rooms.
Gilles Courteau, in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. A Quebec legislative committee is beginning a one-day hearing to investigate violence during hockey hazing rituals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

QUEBEC — The head of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League said Wednesday he will introduce measures to combat a "culture of silence" that exists in locker rooms.

Commissioner Gilles Courteau told a Quebec legislature committee hearing into violent hockey hazing rituals that a "locker room code" will be in effect in time for next season and will make clear what behaviour is unacceptable.

The legislature is studying the issue after a recent Ontario court decision revealed details of sexual assault and torture suffered by teenage hockey players in Canada's three major junior hockey leagues going back to 1975. Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell accepted evidence that former players suffered "horrific and despicable and unquestionably criminal acts" at the hands of teammates and staff during initiations.  

However, the Ontario judge denied a request to certify a class-action lawsuit against the hockey leagues and their teams after determining they failed to present a workable plan to litigate. The plaintiffs can still appeal the decision or launch individual lawsuits against the leagues and teams.

Since a Radio-Canada report on the decision last week highlighted specific cases of abuse, the Quebec league executives have found themselves caught in a political storm. On Wednesday, Courteau said he verified and none of the disturbing revelations described in the Radio-Canada report involved the Quebec league.

"This is an important fact to note, but that does not exempt us from a reflection," Courteau said. “We’re not above other leagues … there exists in our sport a culture that can be harmful."

Courteau said that initiations have long been forbidden in the league, but noted there needs to be an effort to end the culture of silence in the dressing room.

“There is a moment when the locker room door closes. From now on, the QMJHL wants to install a window,” said Courteau, who has been commissioner of the Quebec league for 37 years.

Courteau will meet with owners and managers in the coming days and he undertook to speak directly with players while developing the code in time for next season. “Anyone entering the dressing room or affiliated with the team must undertake to follow the code,” Courteau said.

Also Wednesday, Canadian Hockey League president Dan MacKenzie told the commission that all its players will undergo mandatory respect training. 

"We think this is a very important step in educating our players," he said.

The CHL is the umbrella organization for the country's three major junior leagues and includes 60 privately or community owned teams, including eight based in the United States, with a total of 1,400 players. He noted that each league establishes and enforces its own rules and codes and enforces them.

MacKenzie called the evidence presented in the court case and reported by Radio-Canada "appalling" and said it has no place in hockey.

"The graphic events that were described in the article happened decades ago and there have been significant improvements in the last 20 years," he said, adding that policies and procedures are dramatically different now.

He urged players to come forward if hazing incidents are happening. According to MacKenzie, the way to end such acts is to guarantee players have a way to report, where complaints are taken seriously. He said the CHL received a dozen complaints in the past five years, 10 of which were founded. Actions in response included more training and the firing of a team staffer.

Later Wednesday, the committee heard from Fabrice Labeau, deputy provost at McGill University, which suspended its football program for a year in 2005 after a student was sexually assaulted with a broom handle during a hazing initiation. It had another incident in 2017 involving its basketball team.

Labeau said there has been a real culture change among coaches, who understand the need to create positive activities that help team spirit instead of hazing. He said there are strict rules in place about what is permitted and what is not, and any team events must be reported to coaching staff.

"We can't absolutely control everything," Labeau said. "But has mentality changed? Yes. But there's still a road to travel."

The committee also heard from representatives from Hockey Quebec and the The Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec, which oversees primary, secondary, college and university sports. 

Vincent Marissal, the Québec solidaire member on the committee who pushed for the hearing, said he would like to hear from others.

"I feel that we are only touching the tip of the iceberg today: we must continue to dig to ensure that we put these practices behind us for good,” he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2023.

-- By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal

The Canadian Press

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