The leagues being targeted in a class-action lawsuit by former major junior hockey players Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor are responding — more than a week after allegations of a toxic and discriminatory environment were released.
The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and it’s member leagues — the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) — released a joint statement on Friday in response to the lawsuit, which was filed last Thursday.
The statement said: “We are deeply troubled 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 statement said that on Thursday, the CHL board of directors voted unanimously in favour of creating an independent panel that will work to review current policies and practices in the leagues that relate to hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying.
The panel will also review the allegation that players do not feel comfortable coming forward to report inappropriate behaviour.
In an interview with Global News, WHL commissioner Ron Robison said he doesn’t believe that’s an issue in the WHL right now, with multiple avenues for the players to access if they need support.
The lawsuit alleged a “toxic culture and environment” in junior hockey that is “highly racist, sexualized, homophobic and/or otherwise discriminatory,” but Robison said he does not believe a toxic hockey culture exists in the WHL.
“I think when you look at the Western Hockey League, we have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse,” he said.
“Our objective is to make sure that, at all times, we have a safe and positive environment for all of our players.”
He added that the WHL takes the responsibility of taking care of the young men in the league very seriously.
“That’s a commitment that we make to their parents,” Robison said.
“Certainly, the players understand what our rules and regulations are around any form of hazing or other issues of that manner. We really have, I think, done a good job of educating players and making sure they understand that those types of activities are unacceptable to us.”
The lawsuit also includes allegations against former Lethbridge Hurricanes head coach Michael Dyck, who now mans the bench for the Vancouver Giants.
The document says that during team practices, Dyck took Taylor aside and demanded that he fight other young players on the team to increase the intensity level.
“This took place numerous times. Taylor was seriously concussed during one fight in practice and he and other team members suffered other injuries during such fights,” the claim said.
The lawsuit also states that Dyck provided a credit card so that an older player could buy alcohol for the team “rookie party.”
Robison said the WHL does not intend to investigate Dyck, who has the full support of the league.
“We have full confidence that the Lethbridge Hurricanes — their coaching staff, management — have been fully in compliance with the regulations of the Western Hockey League during that period of time,” he said, referring to the 2008-9 season in which Garrett Taylor was a rookie.
“Michael was coaching in Lethbridge and now is coaching in Vancouver, and there’s nothing to indicate that we have any concerns in that regard.”
The statement from the CHL states that the intent is to announce a chair for the independent review panel in the coming weeks, with the goal of completing the review process in time for the start of the 2020-21 season.
Last week, the WHL released a statement saying it is targeting an Oct. 2, 2020 start date for the upcoming season.