REGINA -- The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) announced it is appointing an independent review panel to look into hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying across its associated junior hockey leagues (WHL, OHL, QMJHL).

According to Dan Mackenzie, the president of the CHL, the review is in response to a class action lawsuit being launched against the league.

“The independent review panel will be looking at our current policies around harassment, abuse and bullying, our education programs in the area, as well as our complaint procedures to make sure the players feel comfortable coming forward,” said Mackenzie.

Unfortunately, it’s a common experience shared by many junior hockey players.

“We were taught back then what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room,” said Eric Frère, who played in the WHL from 2004 to 2009. “Don’t go crying to your mom, don’t go crying to your agent, don’t go crying to your girlfriend.”

Frère played for four different WHL clubs, including the Red Deer Rebels, the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Calgary Hitmen and the Kootenay Ice. The defenseman’s experience with each team was different. However, he recalls being verbally abused by one coach in front of his teammates.

“When you’re attacking them personally and demoralizing them and disrespecting them and basically striking fear into them, that has no place in the game,” said Frère, who now coaches grassroots level players.

A major component of the review will look into why players don’t feel comfortable reporting these behaviours, as the league has people in place to report too.

Mackenzie notes each league has a different protocol in place, but players can currently talk to many people in leadership positions.

“Coach, assistant coaches, captains, GMs, owners all those kind of folks, as well as the WHL commissioner and myself,” said Mackenzie. “Players have options beyond simply reporting to the team personnel. They may reach out to chaplains, police liaisons, educational advisors, etc.”

However Frère says players are fearful to speak out, as it could jeopardize their hockey future.

“If you say something [and it] comes out, [the GMs and coaches] have the ability to trade you the next day or shut down your career.”

Frère says he didn’t speak up about the verbal abuse he was a victim of, but also witnessed, until he was well into his 20s.

“There’s things still that ring in my head and I’m 31 years old,” said Frère.

“You’re at a young age in your life and you are very impressionable and the things that happen in that stage as you’re developing as a human being can really follow you.”

The review panel is chaired by former Premier of New Brunswick Camille Theriault, former NHL player and child advocate Sheldon Kennedy, and former women’s hockey coach and GM Daniele Sauvageau.

The panel will look into current CHL policies and performing interviews. The hope is the review will be complete by the beginning of the season, which is scheduled to start in October.