November 20, 2018

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First Nations cite 'racial tensions', file lawsuit against upstart junior hockey league

A divisive junior hockey league dispute has moved a north versus south rivalry from the ice into a courtroom.

After the Keystone Junior Hockey League split in half along geographical borders in May, the remaining teams in the league, backed by northern Manitoba First Nations, are asking the court to shut down the Capital Region Junior Hockey league — the newly formed association of five southern Manitoba teams. They claim the new league was formed secretly amid "racial tensions" and illegally poached players. They also want the court to award them damages, saying the conduct of those involved in forming new league "is harsh, reprehensible and deserving of punishment."

Just before the remaining teams in the KJHL began their delayed season last week, the league launched a legal challenge seeking a court-ordered injunction to stop the CRJHL from operating.

The northern First Nations that run teams in the shrunken KJHL — Peguis, Norway House, Opaskwayak, Fisher River and Cross Lake — are taking legal action against the new league and all of its teams, as well as Hockey Manitoba and individuals they claim "wrongfully and maliciously conspired" to create the new Manitoba Junior B-level league.

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A divisive junior hockey league dispute has moved a north versus south rivalry from the ice into a courtroom.

After the Keystone Junior Hockey League split in half along geographical borders in May, the remaining teams in the league, backed by northern Manitoba First Nations, are asking the court to shut down the Capital Region Junior Hockey league — the newly formed association of five southern Manitoba teams. They claim the new league was formed secretly amid "racial tensions" and illegally poached players. They also want the court to award them damages, saying the conduct of those involved in forming new league "is harsh, reprehensible and deserving of punishment."

Just before the remaining teams in the KJHL began their delayed season last week, the league launched a legal challenge seeking a court-ordered injunction to stop the CRJHL from operating.

The northern First Nations that run teams in the shrunken KJHL — Peguis, Norway House, Opaskwayak, Fisher River and Cross Lake — are taking legal action against the new league and all of its teams, as well as Hockey Manitoba and individuals they claim "wrongfully and maliciously conspired" to create the new Manitoba Junior B-level league.

After the Free Press inquired about the lawsuit, Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson issued a statement on behalf of the five First Nations that referenced long-standing "racial tension" between the northern and southern teams.

"Junior hockey is an integral part of our northern First Nation communities, and we will do whatever it takes to hold Hockey Manitoba and the Capital Junior Hockey League accountable for their actions," Hudson said in the statement. "Removing hockey from Peguis and all the northern communities is discriminatory in nature and, as a First Nations leader, we must stand up against discrimination. Our communities love the game of hockey and want to see hockey continue at the highest level."

They claim the creation of the new league broke the rules in KJHL's constitution, in part because they didn't receive proper notice of the southern teams' decision to form a new league. They also say the parties who formed the southern league used confidential KJHL information "to compete unfairly with the KJHL."

Hockey Manitoba certified the southern league in September. Its investigation into the league's split led to conditions being imposed on the CRJHL, including a $500 transfer fee for each former KJHL player who was supposed to get a release before leaving to join the new league. The KJHL claims the conditions weren't enforced.

In addition to the five southern teams — Selkirk Junior B Fishermen, St. Malo Warriors, Lundar Falcons, Arborg Ice Dawgs and North Winnipeg Satellites — the CRJHL "unlawfully induced" players from the northern teams to breach their contracts and join the new league, according to the statement of claim filed Oct. 31.

The claims haven't been proven. The case will be in Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg on Friday and is expected to be adjourned to a future court date. No statements of defence have yet been filed and Hockey Manitoba declined to comment Thursday. In an email, executive director Peter Woods wrote "it would not be prudent" for the organization to comment because of the ongoing litigation.

The claim also alleges former KJHL president Rick Olson "breached his fiduciary duty" by acting as president for the CRJHL while he was still working for KJHL. Olson was suspended as a result of Hockey Manitoba's investigation. He declined comment when reached by the Free Press Thursday.

Long travel times and expenses for southern teams playing road games in the North were cited as the main reason for the split, along with parents' fears stoked in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in Saskatchewan last spring. But in an Aug. 17, 2018 letter to Hockey Manitoba, current KJHL president Edward (Sonny) Albert suggested geography wasn't completely to blame.

"It is difficult to ignore the fact that all of the excluded teams reside within First Nation communities. This has led us to believe that the newly formed league does not want to play against our Indigenous hockey players and travel to our Indigenous communities. Even if the decision was not intentionally discriminatory, in effect this new league has polarized Junior B hockey in Manitoba into two leagues: teams which are located on First Nation reserves and teams which are not," Albert wrote in the letter, which was filed in court.

 

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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History

Updated on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 5:58 PM CST: Fixes error in headline

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