Chief: Ra­cial ten­sions be­hind hockey league split

North­ern KJHL teams file suit against south­ern teams that left the league

Winnipeg Sun - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT BILLECK sbil­leck@post­media.com Twit­ter: @scot­tbil­leck

A newly formed hockey league in the prov­ince is al­ready fac­ing a law­suit claim­ing play­ers from five First Na­tions teams were poached and that ra­cial ten­sions played a part in a schism that split one Ju­nior B league in half.

The suit, filed in the Court of Queen’s bench of Wed­nes­day, says that the Cap­i­tal Re­gion Ju­nior Hockey League “wrong­fully” and “ma­li­ciously” with­drew from the Key­stone Ju­nior Hockey League, leav­ing five First Na­tions teams in the north and five non-first Na­tions clubs in the south.

“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,” Chief Glenn Hud­son of Peguis First Na­tion said in a re­lease. “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.”

The law­suit names CRJHL pres­i­dent Rick Ol­son, Hockey Man­i­toba and oth­ers and is ask­ing for an im­me­di­ate in­junc­tion to pre­vent the new league from op­er­at­ing. Teams from Selkirk, St. Malo, Lun­dar, Ar­borg and North Win­nipeg have al­ready be­gun the sea­son in the CRJHL, with some teams as many as eight games in.

The KJHL, with teams from Cross Lake, Fisher River, Nor­way House, Opaskwayak and Peguis, got their sea­son un­der­way just last week.

Jamie Ka­gan of Thomp­son Dorf­man Sweat­man LLP, le­gal coun­sel to the five First Na­tions, told re­porters at a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day that they’ve tried re­peat­edly to reach an ac­com­mo­da­tion with the CRJHL since Septem­ber.

“Ev­ery over­ture that we’ve made with re­spect to set­tle­ment, with re­spect to Hockey Man­i­toba and the (CRJHL) has been re­jected to the point where they refuse to meet with us,” Ka­gan said.

Hud­son brushed aside ar­gu­ments of travel ex­penses for south­ern teams have to go as far north as OCN, say­ing that many of the teams are within a rea­son­able driv­ing dis­tance. Hud­son also said First Na­tions teams in the north have been pay­ing for teams in the south to come to play against them.

“That lo­ca­tion rea­son­ing and ex­cuse is not ac­cept­able,” Hud­son said. “We paid the south teams’ travel ex­penses fully to travel to our com­mu­ni­ties to play. The ex­penses, as far as be­ing too costly, are ir­rel­e­vant.”

Hud­son claims the num­ber of play­ers poached by south­ern teams is some­where around 20, in­clud­ing at least four from his own team.

Hockey Man­i­toba ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Peter Woods de­clined to com­ment on the suit on Fri­day, say­ing that it is a mat­ter now be­fore the court.

Ol­son, who could not be reached on Fri­day, is not a part of ei­ther league any­more, ac­cord­ing to a source close to the sit­u­a­tion. Ol­son was asked to be the pres­i­dent of the CRJHL on a tran­si­tional ba­sis while still act­ing in the same role with the KJHL.

That source told the Win­nipeg Sun on Fri­day that if the split did not hap­pen, the fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of the teams in the south would have been put in jeop­ardy.

“It’s more than just travel costs in­volved,” the source said. "Some teams are get­ting 100 peo­ple at games in their home arena. That barely keeps the lights on in those rinks.

The same source also said there are life is­sues that get in the way with play­ers.

“If you have a ros­ter of 20 play­ers and seven of them say they can’t af­ford to go north, they have to work or they have school work to do, and then you’re send­ing a team with 12 or 13 play­ers, you’re not com­pet­i­tive any­more,” the source said.

Hud­son, mean­while, says he wants unity again.

“We want our league back to­gether, we want those teams to play one an­other,” he said.

A con­tested hear­ing date is set for Dec. 19.

WIN­NIPEG SUN/CHRIS PROCAYLO

Chief Glenn Hud­son of the Peguis First Na­tion, left, and lawyer Jamie Ka­gan at­tend a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, where they claimed that ra­cial ten­sions played a role in split­ting a Ju­nior B hockey league in half.

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