Hockey Canada Anti Hazing Legislation

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Hockey Canada – Anti Hazing Legislation – Greg Dicresce

It’s time to seriously consider comprehensive anti-hazing legislation in Canada.

Last week, the RCMP announced they would lay no charges in a recent hazing incident involving the Neepawa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL).

The case involved the alleged forcing of a 15-year-old boy to tie water bottle carriers to his genitals and then drag them around the locker room in front of his teammates. Six other rookies were supposedly subjected to similar humiliation.

With no hazing legislation in place, the Mounties investigated the matter as a possible assault and, within those legal parameters, opted not to lay any charges.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Many cases of hazing, similar to the one that occurred in Neepawa, are complicated by the apparent consent of the victim.

In the “team statement” of Nov. 3, penned by “Neepawa Natives leadership and players,” it’s pretty clear that they believed no player was forced to do anything he didn’t want to do.

The open letter states emphatically: “No player was forced or threatened to take part in anything they were not comfortable doing.”

From within this bubble of hockey logic — which burst, if only temporarily, when their insensitive and cruel behavior faced public scrutiny — what they’d done amounted to “simply a part of rookie initiations” and “harmless fun.”

While few, if any, in hockey world would condone this specific act of hazing, there are plenty who would defend the value of the “rookie party” in teambuilding.

Such rites of passage are deeply embedded not just in hockey culture, but also in our broader culture. They can be found in our armed forces, our police services, and on our university and college campuses. These rituals are designed to create, simultaneously, a sense of belonging and separation. They serve to inscribe upon rookies and reinforce upon veterans a powerful sense of identity: “You’re one of us now; not one of them.”

Sure, some might glom to the illusion that all it takes to “make the team” is the coach’s say so, but it’s not that simple. A team, and what it means to belong to a team, is beyond coaches and organizations. Of course, this doesn’t absolve them of responsibility or accountability when lines are crossed, particularly when we’re talking about teams comprised of teenagers.

So what’s to be done?

When University of Vermont’s men’s hockey team was entangled in a hazing scandal similar to Neepawa’s, the university cancelled the remainder of the squad’s 2000 season. MJHL commissioner Kim Davis told the Sun he hasn’t ruled out that option.

But, Davis emphasized, no decisions will be made regarding the Natives until the independent investigation is completed. In the meantime, the league is crafting a general response to hazing, which focuses on education and organizational accountability.

As far as anti-hazing legislation goes, Davis was skeptical. He doubted its effectiveness.

I understand his position. In the United States, where all but six states have anti-hazing laws, the enforcement appears confusing and inconsistent, as do the blizzard of definitions of hazing.

But definitions can be ironed out, lines can be drawn, especially when these extreme forms of initiation do real damage — mental and physical — to our youngsters.

Education is good, but with something this culturally pervasive, legislation is better.

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