Panel finds 'unspoken code of silence' enables off-ice misconduct in CHL

Team Red and Team White logos are shown following the CHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton, Ont. on January 16, 2020. (Peter Power/CP)

Allegations of abuse against players and volunteers coupled with coverups by teams who field complaints are so widespread that they've turned off-ice misconduct into a "cultural norm" within the Canadian Hockey League, a newly released report has found.

The league, which includes the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, tasked an independent panel with reviewing the CHL's policies and practices around hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying in July 2020.

The panel — chaired by former New Brunswick premier Camille Theriault, and including former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and former Canadian women's hockey team coach Daniele Sauvageau — submitted its report to the CHL in December 2020 but the league did not make it public until Friday.

The report found a "code of silence" existed when it came to reporting misconduct.

"Maltreatment that, outside of hockey, would not be acceptable has become an embedded behaviour in this hierarchal organization and the level of acceptance is too high," the report's authors wrote.

The panel also found the league did not seek player feedback on policies or education and awareness programs.

"This is a significant void," the report said. "It is counter-intuitive to think that developing and implementing structures to protect players from maltreatment would exclude their voices regarding what they are experiencing and what they want and need."

The misconduct suffered by players, many of whom are minors, will live with them for the rest of their lives, the report added.

The CHL said in a statement that it is "committed to the protection" of players and "will continue to make the changes and investments required to provide the best possible player experience."

As part of the report, the league engaged polling firm Leger to conduct a survey of 31 general managers, 59 coaches, 98 staff members, 212 families and 259 players. Respondents were asked to weigh in on bullying, misconduct and experiences in reporting those issues to the CHL.

First-hand comments from players who reported misconduct concerns to staff members or general managers were recorded for the survey.

One player who was allegedly the subject of abuse from a coach said he was traded after raising concerns, while another reported that his complaints were dismissed with a comment that "boys will be boys."

Another alleged that an equipment manager physically and mentally abused a helper the respondent described as having "special needs."

One player reported bullying allegations against a coach.

"I reported it to other coaches, I don't believe they spoke with him as they were under his level and probably felt they couldn't speak to him without being reprimanded themselves," he said.

In December 2021, the CHL followed up the independent panel's report by tasking lawyer Rachel Turnpenney with reviewing the league's current policies and programs.

In a separate report released by the league on Friday, Turnpenney wrote that the CHL should revisit what is currently in place to create more effective player well-being programs, and that the policies, procedures and programs currently in place lack cohesion and clarity.

Days before the 2020 panel was formed, former NHL player Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, who played in the Western Hockey League from 2008-10, filed a class-action lawsuit against the CHL detailing alleged abuse and hazing.

James Sayce, who is representing Carcillo and Taylor, said the reports released Friday appear to add credence to his clients' claims.

"The independent panel's findings appear to mirror the experiences of Mr. Carcillo, Mr. Taylor and the dozens of class members who have come forward to share their stories of abuse," Sayce said in a statement. "We will continue to push the class action to help eradicate these systemic issues and to seek vindication for those who were wronged."

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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