February 7, 2019 9:09 pm
Updated: February 7, 2019 10:54 pm

North Vancouver coach quits over handling of bullying allegation at elite minor hockey club

Brad Rihela, a hockey coach from the prestigious North Shore Winter Club, has resigned over what he says was the mishandling of serious bullying allegations.

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A coach at one of Metro Vancouver’s most prestigious hockey clubs has resigned over the way a set of serious bullying allegations was handled.

Brad Rihela was the coach of the North Shore Winter Club’s (NSWC) “Bantam Elite” program, which trains top-level 13- and 14-year-old players.

The bullying incidents are alleged to have happened after the team’s practice on Dec. 10, in the locker room and gym, and are alleged to have involved one boy being targeted by other players.

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Two players were suspended, and required to write letters of apology and complete an anti-bullying session with a counselor, but were reinstated in mid and late January.

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That same month, coach Rihela quit the team, and while he wouldn’t speak to the details of his parting, he made it clear that bullying — and the club’s response — played a part.

“There were some decisions that were made in regards to discipline that didn’t line up with my values, and I ultimately made the decision to step away,” Rihela told Global News.

“As a coach, we have a platform that we can promote that, in today’s day and age especially, bullying, abuse, any type of behaviour… We need to provide a safe, productive working environment.

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“And if it comes to a point where a player or players feel uncomfortable in that environment, then ultimately as a coach you need to step in, and that’s kind of where I thought I needed to make a stand.”

Ravi Hira, a lawyer with the firm representing the alleged victim, wouldn’t speak to allegations that the incident involved the touching of the victim’s buttocks or nipples, as first reported in the National Post.

“Generally speaking, there appear to be two incidents. On one occasion, in the dressing room, there was an incident involving an assault with an unfortunate component to that assault,” he said. “The second incident involved another assault by another boy again with an unnecessary component to it,” he said.

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“You have what the paper has said. And I will leave it at that, I am neither confirming or in any way detracting from what is said in the paper.”

The North Shore Winter Club declined an on-camera interview for this story, but issued a statement saying it wished to dispel “unfortunate rumours circulating.”

According to the club, the alleged victim’s family contacted the club asking it to investigate, and asked for the authorities to be left out of the matter.

The NSWC says two players were immediately suspended, and that a disciplinary committee conducted an investigation, including interviews with all 14 players on the team, followed by a review and appeal process.

The club said it found that two players had engaged in bullying, and were meted out the discipline noted above. They were reinstated on Jan. 17 and 27, respectively.

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“It is very disappointing this occurred; but it has initiated changes. We will update the bullying policy in the NSWC players’ code of conduct, plus add additional communications during the season and the Board has appointed a committee to make recommendations for better and stricter policies and procedures to deal with complaints of this nature moving forward,” reads the statement.

“This has been a very difficult issue for all involved. While all might not agree with the outcome, we feel a fair process was established and followed.”

Indeed, it appears not everyone is satisfied.

“If the facts are accurate, you can draw your own conclusions as to whether that manner of dealing with these allegations is really appropriate towards the second decade of the 21st century,” said Hira, who added that his firm’s clients just want a safe environment for their son to play hockey.

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And the matter may not yet be concluded.

The North Vancouver RCMP confirms it is investigating an alleged assault at the North Shore Winter Club on Dec. 10, and that it is taking statements from players, coaches, guardians and parents.

Rihela said he is currently focusing on another job with the BC Hockey League, but hopes that lessons can be learned from the entire ordeal.

“I just think that in certain situations there’s only one way to deal with it,” he said.

“And in today’s day and age, we need to deal swiftly and make sure that everyone is aware that bullying, abuse, anything along those lines is not to be tolerated.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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