Neepawa Coach Banned After Blowing Whistle

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Neepawa coach banned after blowing whistle

Someone please take the shovel out of Kim Davis’s hands.

The commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, a committed and well-respected hockey man by all accounts, is nonetheless digging himself into a hole so deep, he and the league may never climb back out.

In the latest bizarre twist in the Neepawa Natives hazing story, Davis announced in late January the league was banning head coach Bryant Perrier and assistant coach Brad Biggers. The bans mean the two coaches cannot go behind the bench of any team under Hockey Canada jurisdiction. "The suspensions are an indication of the strong view the league has on this type of behaviour," Davis said on January 18. "In our view, the matter is now complete and closed and we are moving forward."

There is no doubt that Davis believes what he said, especially the part about moving on. Problem is, that seems pretty unlikely at this point.

The hazing incident involved veteran players forcing rookies into sexually degrading initiation rituals, including having a water bottle tied to their scrotums. A number of players were suspended, along with Perrier and Biggers, and the RCMP investigated.

The Mounties decided not to lay criminal charges. Many of the players involved in the incident either left the team or were traded. The 15-year-old player who was victimized by the hazing is pursuing his hockey career in the United States. Perrier left Manitoba, with the team claiming he resigned and the coach claiming he was fired.

Six weeks later, after receiving a report from a retired police officer who investigated the incident, the MJHL elected to ban Perrier and Biggers. In a prepared statement, Davis said Perrier "should have known the hazing activity was being undertaken by members of the team. As someone in a position of authority and leadership he was responsible to know what was going on in the dressing room. He failed to do that and is therefore accountable."

Davis is, in essence, accusing Perrier of "willful blindness," which suggests that solely to avoid liability, someone deliberately put himself in a position in which he was unaware of facts or actions.

The problem here is that Perrier is the guy who blew the whistle on the hazing. Within hours of hearing about what went on in the dressing room, Perrier had reported the incident to his team’s board of directors and to the league. Given what we know about hazing and hockey’s tendency to look the other way, the fact Perrier reported it as soon as he found out is a rare act.

Is Perrier the proverbial captain who must go down with his ship? Is there no legitimate excuse for not knowing what his players were up to? Why would he not put his own interests ahead of his players and cover this up?

Although his ban is only in effect to April 1, it effectively makes Perrier unemployable. Perrier had been seeking a coaching position in British Columbia. Now, he is ineligible to be employed as a coach for any team playing under the Hockey Canada jurisdiction.

The MJHL has made matters worse with a trampling of due process. Perrier was out of the province when the MJHL issued the ban, and did not receive any written confirmation until January 25, when Perrier’s lawyer asked for details of the actions being taken by the league. It took eight days for a letter from the league to arrive. The league’s position is that the Neepawa club was notified of the ban on January 18 and it should have informed Perrier. That may be MJHL process, but it’s not due process.

The MJHL is, perhaps sincerely, trying to send a message to coaches and general managers that they must know at all times what is going on in their dressing rooms. That is a very good principal for the league to enforce. However, that should not be interpreted to mean that the head coach or GM should be personally present with the players at all times. It probably means the coach and GM need to take appropriate steps to ensure the players are supervised, such as assigning an assistant coach to oversee the dressing room. Perrier did that by assigning one of his assistants to monitor the dressing room, although it appears the coach he assigned was complicit in the hazing.

In fact, what the MJHL has probably done is discourage head coaches from coming forward if they find out that, despite their better efforts, their players have been involved in some form of misconduct. Disclosing these incidents should not excuse a coach from his duty to provide care, but it is a mitigating factor. Instead, it looks as if the league is punishing Perrier for reporting the hazing, and perhaps for going public with pointed criticism of the league following his initial suspension.

There are some very important issues being raised by the Neepawa hazing incident, issues that probably deserve to be argued in a court of law. Lamentably, because Perrier has been disowned by hockey and prevented from making a living, it is unlikely he will have the financial resources to press the case.

The hazing incident is shameful. But so too is the way hockey is treating the person who blew the whistle.

Dan Lett

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