Chief: Racial tensions behind hockey league split
Northern KJHL teams file suit against southern teams that left the league
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.
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.