Major junior hockey may be forced to confront some dark moments in its history in a class-action lawsuit.
Former NHL and Sarnia Sting player Daniel Carcillo is spearheading the lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League and its member teams on behalf of players who allege abuse while playing major junior hockey.
Carcillo, who played in the Ontario Hockey League between 2002-05, and Garrett Taylor, who played in the Western Hockey League from 2008-10, filed a statement of claim June 18 with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The CHL and its three member organizations — the WHL, OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — are listed as defendants, as are all 60 teams.
A statement from Koskie Minsky LLP, the law firm representing Carcillo and Taylor, said the action “is on behalf of children aged 15-17 who were sexually and physically assaulted, hazed and otherwise abused while away from home and playing for CHL teams.”
The allegations haven’t been proven in court.
The claim was filed the same week former Kitchener Rangers player Eric Guest told The Hockey News as a rookie he was forced by an older teammate to use cocaine at a party. Guest said he never told anyone in the Rangers’ organization.
On Friday, the CHL announced it will form an independent panel to review league policies and practices related to hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying and the allegation players don’t feel comfortable reporting behaviours that contravene these policies.
“We are deeply troubled,” a CHL statement read, “by the allegations in the recently announced class action, many of which are historic in nature and we believe are not indicative of the leading experience our players receive in the CHL today. Regardless of the timing, we are taking the claims very seriously as the protection of our players has been and will always be our primary concern.”
The CHL said each year its teams are charged with the care and safety of 1,400 young men and is committed to ensuring an environment that is players first and free of hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying and provides zero tolerance for any of these behaviours.
“The CHL and its member leagues have made a number of advancements to enhance our player experience programs over the past 20 years,” states the release. “We have been working with organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Canadian Red Cross and Respect in Sport to develop extensive policies and practices to educate players and team staff on the importance of respect and prevention of hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying.”
CHL teams conduct annual player conduct and safety training involving procedures for filing a complaint without fear of reprisal. It includes advising a coach, general manager, police liaison, player liaison or a governor or league official. If criminal conduct is involved, players are encouraged to contact police.
“We believe these programs protect our players and ensure that everyone associated with our teams understand that the type of misconduct alleged is not tolerated,” stated the CHL.
The CHL hopes the independent review will be completed prior to the 2020-21 season.
“We welcome the findings of the Independent Review Panel to ensure we are providing the safest player experience in hockey and amateur sport,” stated the release.
The lawsuit seeks damages for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and a declaration that the teams and leagues are vicariously liable for abuse perpetrated by their employees and players.
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“This case is on behalf of underage minors who suffered violent hazing, physical and sexual assault and psychological trauma while playing major junior hockey,” Carcillo said in a statement. “I was one of those kids when I played in the OHL. I know there are many more just like me.”
Thursday: What are the Peterborough Petes doing to prevent abuse?