This story contains graphic content.
During nine seasons in the NHL, Daniel Carcillo racked up more than 1,200 penalty minutes, nine suspensions, and about 100 fights. After retiring, he led a battle against the league over its handling of concussions and players who suffered brain trauma. But the fight he’s in now may be the most consequential yet, as he seeks to hold major-junior hockey in Canada accountable for enabling a widespread hazing culture of assault and abuse, which an Ontario Superior Court judge characterized as an “evil that has persisted for half a century.”
In a decision released earlier this month, Justice Paul Perell declined to certify a class-action lawsuit filed in 2020 by Carcillo and two co-plaintiffs against the Canadian Hockey League, the three leagues it comprises (the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL) and their 60 teams, writing that the plaintiffs “have not produced a workable litigation plan because it is not conceivable that such a plan could be fashioned to deal in one class action” with the sprawling suit.
But the judge left the door open for the case to proceed, directing the plaintiffs’ lawyers to return within 120 days with an alternate plan.
And he acknowledged that the evidence he read, including sworn statements from a series of unidentified players who alleged they suffered horrific abuse as young as 15, “establishes that some unknown number of ... players ... were tortured, forcibly confined, shaved, stripped, drugged, intoxicated, physically and sexually assaulted; raped, gang raped, forced to physically and sexually assault other teammates.”
He added that the players were, “compelled to sexually assault and gang rape young women invited to team parties, forced to eat or drink urine, saliva, semen, feces, or other noxious substances; forced to perform acts of self-injury, forced to perform acts of bestiality.”
And he blasted the defendants’ insistence that the culture has changed, pointing to an independent report commissioned by the CHL in 2020, after Carcillo filed his suit, that found at least 12 per cent of players then active in the league who participated in a survey had personally experienced bullying or harassment.
The judge, who was born in 1947 and grew up in Hamilton, seemed to take the case personally: His decision was leavened with references to Stompin’ Tom Connors’s The Hockey Song and his own childhood memories of cheering for the Hamilton Red Wings in the 1962 Memorial Cup and attending his first NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens, in which the Leafs took on “Les Habs and Rocket Richard.”
Last Sunday night, Carcillo, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Chicago Blackhawks, spoke about the suit on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle in advance of a Quebec National Assembly committee beginning hearings into the matter on Wednesday.
QMJHL commissioner Gilles Corteau told the committee that the league would introduce a locker-room code to promote the reporting of abuse. “There is a moment when the locker-room door closes. From now on, the QMJHL wants to install a window.”
CHL president Dan MacKenzie told the commission the events that had come to light “happened decades ago and there have been significant improvements in the last 20 years.” He added that CHL players would undergo mandatory respect training. “We think this is a very important step in educating our players.”
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Carcillo, who played for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting and Mississauga IceDogs, said that he doesn’t believe the leagues can reform themselves. “How can we trust these people? They’ve known about this for decades, and it’s in everybody’s best interest in the Canadian Hockey League to not have these stories come out,” he said, adding that CHL teams receive compensation when one of their players makes it to the NHL, creating a disincentive for them to act against a promising prospect who might be the subject of a complaint.
Instead, he said, “you need to put people in places of power that have been through this abuse. So they know intimately,” what they need to look out for and how to tackle the culture of silence.
Carcillo, 38, first spoke about his own hazing experiences in late 2018, when he says reading accounts of the sexual assault at St. Michael’s College in Toronto spurred him to remember his traumatic hazing experiences, which he’d buried. Other players sent him notes about their own experiences, which eventually coalesced into the lawsuit.
The action, the judge wrote, came at “great personal cost” for Carcillo and his co-plaintiffs, Garrett Taylor, who played for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes and Prince Albert Raiders, and Stephen Quirk, who played for the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats and the Halifax Mooseheads.
“The hockey community has closed its door on me – but that was kind of a mutual decision, because as soon as you do something like this, you know that you’re going to become a martyr. So I was okay with that,” said Carcillo, who retired when he was 30. “I’ve lost best friends. I’ve lost money, I’ve lost opportunities. I’ve lost a lot, but I’ve also gained a lot. I’ve gained who I am as a person, right? I feel sorry for a lot of people that stay in hockey for their whole life, because I don’t think they ever really understand who they are away from the game.”
Carcillo says that he’s not pursuing the suit for money. “I don’t need money. And in fact if there’s ever any money that comes my way, it will get donated,” he said. “But a lot of the guys that got sexually abused that didn’t make it to the NHL, specifically because of this type of trauma that dictated how they live their lives – they need compensation to go and get therapy.”
Still, he says that he’s not trying to fix the institutions that oversee hockey. “I really don’t care about the game. I just care about trying to protect people. And I’m really passionate about holding people accountable. Some of the guys that abused some of [the former players who submitted sworn statements], they’re general managers of NHL teams. They need to be removed. They’re coaches. They need to be held accountable in the public eye.”
“I held myself accountable. I’m not an angel. I did things that I regret and I apologized for, to everybody, in the public eye. I feel like these guys need to do the same, and they need to get rehabilitated, and then maybe they’re allowed to come back. It’s not about cancel culture, but these guys need to be outed, for sure.”
The same pugilistic spirit that animated so much of his on-ice play still fuels him today. “That’s how I am as a person. And so, I will not stop. I’m a young man, and if I have to do this for the next 20 years, I will. I’ll try my best to help all of the victims involved have their stories heard.
“So yeah, the fight continues. But I’m okay with that.”