Quebec major junior hockey promises locker room code by next season to prevent hazing

Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL commissioner, testified at a committee on Wednesday following the allegations of abuse in several major junior hockey leagues in Canada. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL commissioner, testified at a committee on Wednesday following the allegations of abuse in several major junior hockey leagues in Canada. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)

WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

The head of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) says the league will introduce three new measures to combat the secret "locker room culture" present in the sport.

Testifying on Wednesday at National Assembly hearings into violence and hazing in Quebec major junior hockey, Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL commissioner, told the committee that none of the revelations of harassment and sexual violence involved his league.

He also said the Quebec league has not received complaints from players about the same kind of disturbing behaviour.

The committee decided to hold hearings on the problem after court documents outlined graphic testimony from six unnamed former hockey players. Their accounts were part of an attempt to launch a class-action lawsuit.

Each player described months of abuse — including sexual assault, beatings, torture and humiliation by veteran players — that they endured as rookies on various teams across Canada.

Their allegations became public earlier this month, when an Ontario Superior Court justice refused to certify the class action.

The three lead plaintiffs, all former junior hockey players, said the QMJHL and other leagues and teams, were responsible for a "toxic culture," predatory violence and hazing.

The judge described the evidence as "horrific."

Today, the committee heard from representatives from QMJHL, the Canadian Hockey League, Hockey Quebec, the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec and McGill University.

Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada
Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada

New locker room code to be introduced next season

Natacha Llorens, the director of player services at the QMJHL, says the allegations of abuse are "taken seriously" by the league.

"I was shocked to learn about the atrocities," said Llorens. "As a mother, I can understand the concerns of parents."

She said players must take courses and attend conferences at the start of the year to discuss mental health and sexual abuse.

But moving forward, the league commissioner says they are implementing new measures to attempt to change the culture in the sport.

A committee of independent consultants is working toward a prevention program and the league will look to meet with individual teams to address problematic behaviour.

Courteau said there will also be a new locker room code next season — forcing everyone who enters the locker room to abide by a code of conduct.

Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada
Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada

Hazing not defined by league

Courteau said he wants the QMJHL to be a "source of pride for Quebecers."

"We are doing everything we can to ensure there is zero risk," said Courteau, adding that the league intervenes, but only "when we are made aware of something."

He said hazing is not permitted in the league but, when questioned by the politicians, he revealed the league fails to define hazing in players' contracts.

'Teenage boys don't want to report on their friends'

Dan MacKenzie, president of the Canadian Hockey League, testified that there is still a lot of work to be done.

"Our experience is that teenage boys don't want to report on their friends and that is a situation we're still trying to get past," said MacKenzie.

Rachel Watts/CBC
Rachel Watts/CBC

Testifying before the committee, MacKenzie spoke about the independent reporting mechanisms in place for players and the disciplinary action players are subject to if they fail to abide by the rules outlined in their mandatory training modules on "BAHD" — an acronym for bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

He said the "core" concern is stopping the culture of silence and the idea that "what happens in a locker room stays in a locker room."

Presiding over 60 teams across Canada, MacKenzie said that over the past five years there have been 12 complaints related to hazing and harassment — two were dismissed and 10 were addressed.

He says the disciplinary action ranged from additional training to one case where an employee was fired.

"Nobody wants to see this. We want it to stop. It's simple," said MacKenzie. "We're starting to see, not so much here but in some other leagues … some players come forward and report on their teammates."

'What happened was absolutely disgusting'

Hockey Quebec officials testified they have never heard of cases like those described in the class action.

Executive director Jocelyn Thibault told the committee members that "what happened was absolutely disgusting, very disturbing."

He says his organization needs more resources to educate players and fight hazing.

Fabrice Labeau, professor and deputy provost at McGill University, appeared at the hearings on behalf of the Montreal university.

The university reversed a decision not to attend after criticism from several MNAs on Tuesday — especially considering the university suspended its football program in 2005 after a hazing incident.

In 2005 an 18-year-old rookie filed a complaint which alleged he was sexually assaulted with a broomstick by a veteran player.

Labeau said McGill initially declined to attend the committee because the events happened almost 20 years ago.

He spoke to the committee about the changes McGill has made since 2005, including educating coaches and employees on the rules and codes of conduct and ensuring the reporting process is independent.

"We are unfortunately more prepared because it already happened," said Labeau.

The committee is meeting Thursday morning to discuss its observations following the hearing.

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.