LETHBRIDGE – “I'm not satisfied with it. … In order for there to be a big change that the University needs and for the women's hockey program to excel again, they need a whole different coaching staff, and they need to know that somebody's coming into the team who's going to make a change.”
That was Olivia Alexander’s response to the one they received from the University of Lethbridge, regarding a complaint she put forward along with five of her teammates against women’s Pronghorns head coach, Michelle Janus.
In total, the group submitted 21 complaints regarding Janus under the U of L’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy on May 13, 2018 – resulting in the university launching an investigation.
They allege that Janus bullied players and allowed bullying to go on within the team, that she used playing time to threaten and intimidate players, that she shared confidential information without a player’s consent, and that she told a player “she had to do mandatory counselling” after attempting suicide instead of working with the player’s treatment doctors. It was further stated that their concerns had been communicated to Sport and Recreation Services Executive Director, Ken McInnes, on multiple occasions since 2015.
They go on to ask that Janus be terminated or suspended from her position as head coach.
“When I was talking to her, I never knew what was in confidentiality and I never knew what was going to come back around and bite me in the butt,” said Alexander in an interview with Lethbridge News Now. “I never had the trust to talk to her – I've never had that with a coach. I felt like I couldn't say anything without worrying about if it would affect me, if it would affect my ice-time, if it would affect anything. I feel like respect is a two-way street, and she definitely didn't give me the respect that I think I deserved from her.”
Following the investigation by the U of L, a response was sent to the players by the university’s Vice-President (Finance and Administration) and Acting Chief Human Resources Officer, Nancy Walker, dated July 31.
“The conclusion relating to the harassment complaint was that the Policy on harassment has been violated,” wrote Nancy Walker, the U of L’s Vice-President (Finance and Administration) and Acting Chief Human Resources Officer in a response, dated July 31. “The investigation conclusion in regards to discrimination was that based on the balance of probabilities and findings of fact, the Policy on discrimination of different treatment on the basis of protected grounds has not been violated.”
She went on to explain that the University has accepted the findings of the investigation and will be working with Janus to correct the harassment behaviour to improve the environment surrounding the team.
“Specific steps the University will be taking include counselling for Coach Janus and more in-depth education and training through the Canadian Coaching Association of Canada and other relevant sources. A code of conduct will be created for the upcoming year to provide assistance to govern behaviour and formal monthly reports will be required to the Executive Director, Sport and Recreation Services and Vice-President (Finance and Administration) outlining the actions taken and the improvements in behaviour and culture. There will also be the formation of a Leadership Team, with representatives from student athletes, coach and assistant coach and a member from the University’s Athletics’ staff, with the goal to create a safe environment where each student athlete feels they can have a voice and the confidence that issues will be heard and addressed by all key stakeholders. The Associate Athletic Director will be working closely with Coach Janus on all of the initiatives to ensure the best experience possible for our student athletes.”
In a brief statement to LNN, McInnes said there is no question Janus will be back behind the Pronghorn’s bench next season but that he could not comment on the status of any players involved in the complaint.
As noted earlier, Alexander feels the response doesn’t go far enough, and that the group intends to take further action.
“Before this even got out to the news, we addressed the U of L and saying we're going to go to U Sports now,” explained Alexander. “It's already affected me to the point where the sport was ruined for me, and I don't want to sound cliché saying this, but I don't want it to affect somebody else – I want people to have a good experience playing the sport they love while going to school.”
Alexander has since quit the team and even noted that she won’t be returning to the university this fall, saying that after 15 years of playing hockey, she has lost her love for the game.
“It was one of the hardest things I've had to do, I obviously didn't take it lightly at all. I had to put into consideration that honestly, my mental health and well-being is more important than the game of hockey,” said Alexander.
She also made a point of stating that they were not the ones to leak the story and make it public, saying she’s disappointed by the backlash her and the other five have received since the story broke.
“I feel like we're being shamed a bit for all this coming out… [hearing] people in general saying that we leaked this news just to get the attention is very hurtful for us six girls and is completely not true.”
Lethbridge News Now has reached out to Janus for comment but has yet to receive a reply.
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