Quietly, the QMJHL unveiled new measures last week intended to “prevent problematic behavior” within the circuit. If this initiative is seen as a step in the right direction, it is nevertheless considered “clumsy” by two organizations that help victims of sexual assault.
Posted yesterday at 5:00 a.m.
The new policy has two parts. On the one hand, the league is strengthening prevention with players, relying on the programs already in place and adding mandatory seminars on sexual violence and the concept of consent. The well-known author and researcher Léa Clermont-Dion will notably give training to athletes and coaches. Players will then be required to sign a “code of conduct,” reads the documentation provided by the league.
On the other hand, an “intervention” process has been put in place to support people affected by “incidents of aggression or violence”.
This approach aims to encourage “presumed victims” to report inappropriate behavior. They are first invited to alert the police, “the priority route for victims in our society”. If the person does not wish to do so, they can turn to an independent committee made up of eight members from different backgrounds — psychologists, a lawyer and a retired police officer, for example, but also known faces of Quebec sport like Patrice Bernier, himself a former QMJHL player, and Isabelle Leclaire, coach of the Université de Montréal Carabins. The league specifies that a member of the committee will receive the complaint and that an “internal investigation process” will be triggered. Three members will be called upon “if there is a situation to manage”.
If a victim does not wish to take either of these two avenues, he can communicate directly with the director of player services of the QMJHL, who will handle the matter with the commissioner and the circuit lawyers.
” Internal ”
In interview with The Press, commissioner Gilles Courteau underlines that this new policy aims to indicate “clearly” to players “the consequences that can have” the actions they take. In fact, a complaint filed with the police will result in the immediate suspension of the player concerned, and this, for an “indefinite” period. The other two options, however, will not lead to a sanction before a “verification of the validity of the facts”, specifies Mr. Courteau.
This new policy was developed “in-house” without the help of academic organizations or researchers. Rather, it was the opinion of the independent committee that was used.
In this regard, Natacha Llorens, director of player services, invokes a time constraint – the LHJMQ firmly wanted to reveal the procedure before the start of the 2022-2023 season. The project was started “over a year ago,” long before the Hockey Canada scandal came to light. The multiple revelations of the last few months have however accelerated things, concedes Mme Lawrence
“When the scandal happened, we said to ourselves: we have to do more than just work on training,” she said. The policy is thus called upon to evolve.
Even if this procedure is not only aimed at handling complaints of sexual assault, this aspect is inevitable, all the more so given the incidents that have plagued Canadian junior hockey in recent years.
Invited by The Press Looking at it, two organizations that help victims of assault raised several questions. Since February 2021, the Institut national du sport du Québec has had a whistleblowing platform, it is noted. There are also questions about respecting the confidentiality of victims throughout the process.
“I think it’s filled with good intentions, but it’s very clumsy,” summarizes Mélanie Lemay, spokesperson for Quebec against sexual violence.
The latter wonders in particular what training the members of the independent committee will receive, so that the victims can make their “disclosure” in a “benevolent” framework, which does not “perpetuate myths”.
For the moment, it does not seem that a specific training is planned, we answer on the side of the league. We rely on the “experience” and “experience” of the members of the committee, notes Gilles Courteau, who nevertheless adds that “nothing prevents them from joining” external resources.
Mme Lemay would rather have expected us to “go and find people with specific expertise”. “It’s not true that you can improvise as an expert in sexual violence,” she decides.
Deborah Trent, executive director of the Montreal Center for Sexual Assault Victims, agrees.
If a denunciation is made, we must ensure that the victim is accompanied. Adequate reception of a first disclosure is essential to help it get better.
Deborah Trent, Executive Director of the Montreal Sexual Assault Center
Mme Trent insists on the importance for the victim to be “believed, heard and treated with dignity” in a safe context.
Mélanie Lemay is sorry, for her part, that the main solution, the “royal road”, remains to report to the police. She recalls that a tiny minority of victims file a complaint with the police authorities, “which is somewhat the very reason for the #metoo movement”. Not all cases of assault will result in criminal charges, she points out.
We will continue to defeat the victims if we continue to send them to the same people.
Mélanie Lemay, spokesperson for Quebec against sexual violence
The ideal system “does not exist”, concedes Mme Lemay, who salutes the fact that the QMJHL “takes the initiative where Hockey Canada has failed miserably”.
In his view, it is nevertheless necessary that organizations have “the humility to recognize that they do not have all the answers” and “diversify the people[elles] integrate into their decision-making system.
Gilles Courteau does not deny the issues of toxic masculinity linked to hockey. He believes the league he leads has already done a lot to improve the culture of the sport, but concedes that “we’re not perfect”. He adds that “you always have to improve”.
On the fact that improvements are still necessary, he agrees with the victim support organizations. Although you have to start somewhere.