Published February 14, 2023

Quebec premier demands explanation from junior hockey league about 'disgusting' abuse

Suit filed by former players covered events in the OHL, WHL and QMJHL going back to 1975


Premier François Legault is calling on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to provide a public explanation after disturbing revelations in a recent Ontario court decision of sexual assault and torture suffered by teenage players.

The premier called the hazing abuse of young people detailed by the judge "very serious" and said the league cannot remain silent.

"It's disgusting, it's disgusting," Legault told reporters in Quebec City Tuesday. "It's time the Quebec Major Junior League explained themselves."

Earlier, the provincial minister responsible for sports, Isabelle Charest, said news reports of the abuse had left her speechless and been met with general indignation. She said her announcement in 2020 of an independent complaints officer to give victims a voice was "a step in the right direction."

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." Moreover, Charest said that funding for the federations is linked to them enforcing their integrity policies.

The QMJHL did not immediately respond to an interview request, but commissioner Gilles Courteau told Radio-Canada that the league has had a "zero tolerance" policy against abuse since 2008.

"We have never been made aware of initiations that went wrong," Courteau said.

In a Feb. 3 decision on a class-action lawsuit, Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell described what he called "horrific and despicable and unquestionably criminal acts" inflicted on former players in Canada's three major junior hockey leagues by teammates and staff. The suit covers events in the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and QMJHL going back to 1975.

The ruling quotes from sworn statements by unidentified players describing what they experienced when they were as young as 15. One player, identified as FF, said that as part of a rookie initiation, a hockey stick was forcibly inserted into his anus, an experience that at least one other player said also happened to him.

"I have lived with the abuse I suffered," the player said. "Coming out with my story has been extremely difficult but (I) am telling it because I do not want any other child to go through what I did."

Perell said the evidence presented by players in the case established that they were "tortured, forcibly confined, shaved, stripped, drugged, intoxicated, physically and sexually assaulted; raped, gang raped, forced to physically and sexually assault other teammates."

He added that players were also "compelled to sexually assault and gang rape young women invited to team parties."

The judge accepted the former players' evidence and called the main plaintiffs — Daniel Carcillo, Garrett Taylor, and Stephen Quirk — "genuine heroes." But he denied their request to certify a class-action lawsuit against the three major junior hockey leagues and their teams.

He said they failed to present a workable plan to litigate the class action, "because it is not conceivable that such a plan could be fashioned to deal in one class action with the evil that has persisted for half a century in amateur hockey."

Opposition party Québec solidaire is asking that the directors of the QMJHL be called before a legislature committee.

"They have no choice but to explain themselves," said Québec solidaire member Vincent Marissal. "We have to break this dirty culture of harassment, aggression, and domination."

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2023.

— By Marisela Amador in Montreal

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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