The board of directors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) should be completely independent and not include a majority of team owners. And the league should have an independent, external complaints mechanism.
Here are some of the 23 recommendations made by the Culture and Education Commission in a report to be released Tuesday afternoon. The document was produced following public hearings held in February and March on violence during initiations in junior hockey and the possible situation in other sports.
The initiative was launched after the announcement of the rejection in Ontario of a class action lawsuit brought by three former players reporting having been victims of abuse during their years in Canadian junior hockey. The players, including Stephen Quirk, who played in the QMJHL, said they had been victims of acts of physical, verbal, sexual violence and intimidation, in particular.
In their report, the members of the Commission mention that “all sports are affected by cases of violence or abuse”. “The phenomenon of violent initiations is not exclusive to hockey, but the sport’s popularity partly explains the greater number of potential acts and gestures,” it says. Ten of the report’s 23 recommendations target the QMJHL.
According to the Commission, there is “a consensus on the presence of a culture that promotes excesses during initiations in the world of junior hockey”. “This culture is characterized in particular by an unequal relationship between recruits and veterans, as well as by the overvaluation of victory”, can we read.
The report explains that initiations are “a cyclical phenomenon”. “Initiated recruits will be driven to become the initiates themselves as new members enter their team. Thus, the cycle of initiatory violence has persisted from year to year for several decades”, it is written. Also discussed is the “culture of silence that generally prevails in junior hockey with respect to abusive or violent behavior”.
The QMJHL has announced in recent months its intention to review its ways of doing things, in particular by modifying its complaint handling mechanism. The League has also banned initiations for years. But “banning initiations is not enough to eradicate the phenomenon,” writes the Commission. Especially since in the QMJHL as in other sports organizations, the policies prohibit initiations “but do not formally define the prohibited gestures”. The Commission also recommends that “sports federations develop a policy on hazing and inappropriate initiation practices” which clearly prohibits a series of acts, such as “ridiculing or devaluing a person or a social group”, “undressing or appear unclothed in a public or private place” or “participate in a sexual act or simulate a sexual act”.
For the Commission, the governance structure of junior hockey limits the means of transforming the culture. “Both the teams and the commissioner have responsibilities and limits to their power of intervention with regard to the prevention, supervision and sanction of cases of abusive initiations”, it is written in the report. Responsibilities are also shared between the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and the three regional leagues, of which the QMJHL is a part, so that it is “difficult to ensure the accountability of each relating to initiations”. Over the past five years, the CHL has received twelve complaints relating to hazing, harassment and abuse. Ten of them led to various sanctions.
According to several speakers heard by the Commission, a distinction must be made between “positive initiation rituals which reinforce the feeling of team and abusive practices, which constitute hazing”. The Commission also recommends “that it be specified in the QMJHL Players’ Code of Ethics that ‘hazing’ is prohibited and not positive integration activities in the broad sense”.