Manitoba high school’s handling of hazing allegations questioned after accused player gets athletic awards

A high school in rural Manitoba hasn’t taken hazing allegations seriously enough, a community member says after a teen charged in connection with the alleged incidents on a hockey team was named the recipient of two high school athletic awards last month.

The awards were revoked the next day, the community member who spoke to CBC said, but they’re concerned about the message the awards presentation sends to other students and the victims of the alleged crimes.  

“To me it just sends the message that what happened was not a big deal,” said the person, whom CBC has agreed not to name over fears of backlash for coming forward. 

“I think there needs to be some changes made, because if things like that happen, other kids are going to see that, other hockey players are going to see that, and think, ‘Well, if the school doesn’t think it’s a big deal, why is it a big deal?'”

The community member said the teen who received the awards is one of three arrested earlier this year following an investigation into incidents of hazing on a high school hockey team.

The team is made up of players from three school divisions. The school that initially awarded the student is in the south-central Manitoba Prairie Spirit School Division, according to the community member. 

CBC is not naming the team or the school involved to protect the identity of the young people involved in this case. 

3 17-year-olds charged

In April, RCMP said three teens, all age 17 at the time, “were arrested in relation to hazing incidents on a hockey team.”  

Two of the teenage boys were arrested for sexual assault with a weapon, sexual assault and forcible confinement, while one of the teens was arrested for sexual assault and assault, according to an RCMP news release. 

RCMP confirmed all three of the teens have since been officially charged. 

At the time of the arrests, RCMP said the incidents were first reported to police on Feb. 20, 2024. Two incidents are alleged to have taken place in November 2023 and January 2024 at a hotel, while a high school hockey team from the Pembina Valley area was in Winnipeg for tournaments, they said. 

According to RCMP, there were five victims, all of whom were rookies on the team.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.  

The award was taken away, but what happened at that time is something that these victims … will never forget.– Community member

The community member who spoke with CBC said along with rescinding the awards in June, the school division apologized, saying a mistake had been made by the athletics department. No students were named in the apology.  

But by that point, the damage had already been done, the person told CBC.

“Yes, the award was taken away, but what happened at that time is something that these victims, I can think, will never forget,” they said.

The community member thinks a protocol should be in place to ensure school principals know which students are being recognized for awards.

Responsibility to protect privacy of all: division

The award isn’t the only example of a concerning response by the school to the alleged hazing incidents, according to the person.

They said while RCMP were quickly notified by the school when the rookies on the hockey team came forward with the allegations, the students who were accused were initially allowed to continue playing on a high school basketball team, which is made up of students from more than one school. No arrests had been made at that time. 

“The victims had to see this,” the person told CBC.

“The mental health for these poor boys — I really feel bad for them,” they said. “How would that make them feel?”  

CBC News requested an interview with the school principal and the superintendent of the Prairie Spirit School Division. 

Schools and school divisions do not have the luxury of sharing restrictions and consequences in place for individual students.– Prairie Spirit School Division

CBC also submitted questions by email asking why the student was chosen for the awards, why students involved in this case were allowed to continue playing on the basketball team, and how the school and the division respond to concerns the school has not taken the allegations seriously enough. 

In a statement, the Prairie Spirit School Division said “schools and school divisions do not have the luxury of sharing restrictions and consequences in place for individual students as protecting the privacy of all remains our responsibility.”

The statement went on to say the division is “aware that some may perceive that not enough is being done; however, maintaining the privacy of individuals while planning for the safe participation and attendance of students when possible remains a priority and our legal responsibility.”

Changing mentality around hazing

The co-founder of a Calgary-based company that provides education to coaches, parents and athletes on the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination in sport said hazing incidents still happen, though there appear to be fewer cases now than in the past. 

“The good news [is] when it is happening, it’s being reported quickly and dealt with quickly,” said Wayne McNeil, who co-founded Respect Group with Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player who was abused by junior hockey coach Graham James.

He did not comment on the specifics of this Manitoba case, but said he thinks education is playing a role in the reduction of cases. 

“Every coach in almost every sport now understands the tragedy that goes along with hazing,” he said.

“Twenty years ago it was kind of a right of passage, it was a ritual, and sometimes coaches even condoned it to … get the rookies up to speed — boys will be boys, that kind of mentality. That’s not the mentality of society today.”  

A man in a grey suit smiles at the camera.
Wayne McNeil, co-founder of the Respect Group, said while hazing incidents are still happening, they are generally now being reported and dealt with more quickly than in the past. (Submitted by Wayne McNeil)

Players who do come forward about incidents of hazing — which can include discrimination, as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse — have to be believed, and teams need protocols in place to deal with it if it happens, said McNeil. 

“It’s a combination of education, it’s a combination of players knowing they will absolutely be believed, and also having the right protocols in place that they can safely report it and know it will be dealt with seriously,” he said.

The community member who spoke to CBC commends the young players who came forward to report the allegations.

“I imagine it wasn’t easy,” the person said. 

They said they don’t want to see situations like this happen in the future, and that clear consequences are needed for hazing to show the community it is taken seriously.  

The individual also wants to see more training and awareness around hazing and better supervision in place for students on teams. 

 “My utmost wish here is to keep all the students safe.”