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TSN Senior Correspondent

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Off-ice misconduct exists in the Canadian Hockey League to the point that it has become a “cultural norm,” says an independent panel’s report on bullying, discrimination and harassment within major junior hockey.

“[A] code of silence also prevents athletes from disclosing their experiences,” the report says. “Reasons for this may include fear of retribution or punishment, power imbalances, and loyalty.”

The report, released Friday afternoon, was written by a three-person panel commissioned in June of 2020 by the CHL to investigate allegations of abuse within its three leagues – the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The panel’s members were former New Brunswick premier Camille Theriault, former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, and former women’s hockey coach and general manager Daniele Sauvageau.

“We are committed to the protection of our players and will continue to make the changes and investments required to provide the best possible player experience,” the CHL wrote in a press release.

Kennedy declined to comment. He said the CHL has instructed the three panel members not to talk publicly about their findings.

Days before the league commissioned the report in July 2020, a group of former CHL players, including Dan Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, filed a class-action lawsuit against the CHL alleging major junior hockey leagues have “been complicit for decades in rampant hazing, bullying, and abuse of underage players by coaches, team staff and senior players."

The CHL said Friday that it received the investigation findings of Theriault, Kennedy and Sauvageau in December of 2020. 

James Sayce, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the proposed class-action lawsuit, asked an Ontario Superior Court judge on Dec.1, 2021, to force the CHL to hand over the report.

"The conclusions in this report appear to align with the allegations of Messrs. Carcillo, Taylor and the dozens of class members who have come forward in the class action,” Sayce wrote in an email to TSN on Friday. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this case to ensure these systemic wrongs are addressed.”

The CHL said the independent panel conducted confidential interviews with player agents, current and former players, owners and senior team and league officials. It also had access to complaints made to the three major junior leagues for three seasons (2017-19) and were provided with the results of a web survey conducted by the polling firm Leger of more than 650 CHL members – 31 general managers, 59 coaches, 98 staff members, 259 players, and 212 families.

According to the Leger survey, 45 per cent of players surveyed said they had heard of cases of bullying or harassment in the CHL over the previous four years that were not reported in the media. Only 3 per cent of players said they had reported those incidents to team officials or other authorities.

The survey also reported that 52 per cent of families (hockey parents) believe that bullying exists in the CHL, compared to 32 per cent of players and 25 per cent of team coaches.

Survey respondents were asked about the outcomes of complaints they reported.

“Swept under the rug and covered up so as not to harm the team/franchise,” one respondent wrote. “It involved an equipment manager constantly physically and mentally abusing a special needs helper. Upon that helpers termination, the boy’s mother reported what her son told her and there were closed door meetings held with the person(s) doing the mentioned harassment which were categorically denied. I was never asked if I witnessed anything and made it known I had and had even told the person to stop doing it on more than one occasion…”

Other respondents said, “changes were made in the team through trades,” “[there were] team mandated suspension/discipline,” and “the people involved were spoken to.”

The CHL also said Friday it hired Toronto lawyer Rachel Turnpenney to review the league’s current policies and programs.

Turnpenney wrote in a report that was also disclosed by the CHL that the league should create a safe environment for reporting of misconduct and that the OHL, WHL and QMJHL should “revamp” their websites.

“Each member league currently has anonymous and confidential reporting mechanisms that are not found on their websites,” she wrote. “This is a missed opportunity that should be remedied immediately.”