TORONTO — Brock McGillis wasn’t surprised by the abuse allegations detailed in the class-action lawsuit filed against the Canadian Hockey League.
He also says the sport’s problems run far deeper than the country’s top junior circuit.
“This isn’t a CHL issue,” McGillis said. “It’s a hockey issue.”
Outspoken former NHLer Dan Carcillo and ex-junior player Garrett Taylor filed a statement of claim Thursday against the CHL and its member teams with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on behalf of players who allegedly suffered abuse during their time in the league.
The CHL and its three member organizations — the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — are listed as defendants, as are all 60 teams that play under the umbrella organization.
A statement from the law firm representing Carcillo, who played in the OHL from 2002-05, and Taylor, who played in the WHL from 2008-10, 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.”
Carcillo and Taylor both allege they suffered abuse playing junior, leaving them “permanently traumatized.”
The lawsuit seeks damages for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and a declaration that the teams and the leagues are vicariously liable for abuse perpetrated by their employees and players.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The CHL has declined to comment, saying it has not been served with court documents.
McGillis, who played in the OHL and semi-professionally before becoming a voice in sports for the LGBTQ community after he came out in November 2016, said the allegations aren’t a shock.
“I’ve been around hockey culture long enough to know this exists,” he said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press on Friday. “Dan’s been speaking about it and sharing his experiences, and other people have backed up what he’s said. There was a lot of opportunity for Hockey Canada, the CHL to do something about it. They haven’t.
“We’re turning a blind eye to the language used by coaches, to actions, to things done by players.”
The lawsuit alleges — in graphic detail — a number of incidents from Carcillo’s rookie season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
“Rookies were required sit in the middle of the shower room naked while the older players urinated, spat saliva and tobacco chew on them,” the 46-page statement of claim alleges. “At least once, the head coach walked into the shower room while this was occurring, laughed and walked out.”
Another alleged hazing incident involving Carcillo, who would go on to win two Stanley Cups during his NHL career, and 12 other first-year players on a road trip.
“Rookies would be stripped naked and sent into the bus bathroom, eight at a time,” the statement alleges. “The older players would tape the boys’ clothes up in a ball, which were thrown into the bathroom. The boys were not allowed out until they were dressed, which could take hours. Older players would pour chew, saliva, and urine on them through the bathroom vents.
“This took place in front of coaches and trainers.”
The lawsuit outlines a number of other alleged incidents — including “racist, sexist and homophobic slurs” being repeatedly directed at rookies — adding that Carcillo and a teammate reported what had happened, but “no findings were released, abusers were not punished.”
“Whether it’s associations, leagues, federations — it doesn’t matter, pick a level — there’s thousands of stories like this,” McGillis said. “They should all be accountable.”
But he isn’t optimistic the lawsuit will lead to the “reckoning” some have claimed is coming in junior hockey.
“They’re going to create new panels, they’re going to create new committees,” he said. “Or they’re going to bring in a few people so they can listen to those people’s experiences … and it’s not going to change a damn thing.”
McGillis has made it his life’s work to push for change in hockey. The 36-year-old speaks to teams and players, but doesn’t blame the teenagers brought up in a culture he views as toxic.
“I know what goes on still,” he said. “It scares me. I get stories daily.”
Carcillo, who has admitted he became part of the problem later in his junior career, and McGillis have had numerous conversations about the sport’s issues.
“Dan’s an extreme case,” McGillis said. “He suffered a lot of abuse and also probably inflicted a lot of abuse, but these players are a product of an environment.
“Dan Carcillo sat there and posted everything he’s done (on Twitter). He owned all of it and then has tried to make amends.”
McGillis said the fixes are simple, but doubts there will be any change in the short-term.
“The people that are running the leagues and organizations and associations need to get out of the way,” he said. “There’s too much need for power and control in hockey instead of worrying about what’s important — the kids playing. Once you get to that you recognize issues. Racism, sexism, homophobia, mental illness, abuse.
“Once they realize that those things exist, they have to humanize the issues. There’s enough of us out there who have the lived experience, who talk about it openly. We’re seeing in society right now, when an issue’s been humanized to an extreme degree, like the Black Lives Matter movement, people are willing to learn and educate themselves — hockey players are willing to learn and educate themselves.
“Why haven’t we done this in hockey? It’s because people at the top gate-keep it.”
McGillis added news of the lawsuit should be a moment where the sport’s hierarchy takes pause.
“A lot of hockey should be doing some self-reflection,” he said. “Because they are just as complicit in everything that’s going on in the game as what happened in the CHL.
“And they may be next, so they better start looking at ways to shift.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2020.