Exactly one week after filing a class action abuse lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League, lawyer James Sayce finds a moment to return a call. He apologizes. Says he was on the phone with another former player who wants to tell his story and join the lawsuit.
Sayce, the lead lawyer in the lawsuit brought forth by former junior players Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, is not at liberty to tell how many players have joined the class since the filing, but says it’s “a lot.” Suffice to say his phone bill will be pretty high for the next month or so. And, energized by the response he has had from former players, Sayce wants to keep the momentum going.
“From a litigation perspective, we’re going to push this forward as quickly as we possibly can,” Sayce said. “We continue to welcome people to come to us and keep sharing their stories. Each person’s voice is important. We’re going to really push this forward. We’re firing on all cylinders here.”
It’s pretty clear that there are people who are increasingly finding their voices. Some of them have been stifled for decades, some for a lot less than that. This could very well be a time of reckoning for junior hockey. Expect the same people who likely knew things such as the Carcillo allegations were going on to fight this lawsuit with all the vigor they can muster. One would expect that. But if that’s the case, those same people should be prepared for a conga line of men telling stories that will embarrass them and their leagues.
If the people who run junior hockey in Canada were taken aback by this lawsuit, shame on them. They should have seen this coming because it’s not as though the warning signs were not there. In fact, in filing a lawsuit against the CHL, both Carcillo and Taylor were simply putting on the legal record things they’ve been saying for years now. Carcillo went public with the humiliation he suffered during his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting in 2002-03 two years ago.
That was right about the time the Portland Winterhawks of the Western League initiated Bill HB4093, which would exempt the Winterhawks from paying their players minimum wage. The Winterhawks expected Oregon lawmakers to welcome them with open arms, but instead walked into a public-relations nightmare of their own making. Labor unions mobilized and pushed back. Among those speaking out against the CHL were James McEwan, who is now the face of the concussion class-action lawsuit against the CHL. Another speaker was a woman by the name of Kim Taylor, who happens to be Garrett Taylor’s mother. Much of what Garrett Taylor alleges happened to him when he was with the Lethbridge Hurricanes was spelled out for Oregon lawmakers two years ago.
The testimonies moved Sen. Sarah Gersel to apologize to McEwan and Taylor, saying she was sorry she took her daughter to a recent Winterhawks game. “It didn’t occur to me that we were enjoying an evening and having fun based on the exploitation of children that were her age,” she said. “And I’m remorseful I participated in that.”
The testimonies did prompt an investigation by the WHL into the matter, which was done by retired RCMP deputy commissioner Craig Callens. The investigation came to the conclusion that the allegations, along with those of former player Tyler Maxwell, “were not systemic to the League or to a particular team. In all but one of the cases, the players were either aware of the terms of the agreements or there was insufficient, and at times no evidence, to establish the allegation.” WHL president Rob Robison also said his league would, “take the necessary steps to introduce a new policy in this area as it relates to the release or trading of players.”
If that has indeed been done, Kim Taylor has not been notified. She has never seen Callens’ report in its entirety, nor has she ever spoken to anyone from the league about what, if anything, has been done. "Did they ever reach out to me? No,” Kim Taylor said. “They put a public statement on the WHL website, saying that all but one allegation was unfounded. So basically now they’ve called all of us liars. All I wanted were entry and exit policy and procedure changes.”
As the names continue to pile up in James Sayce’s file, we’re getting closer to finding out what has been going on behind the scenes in junior hockey for years. Because players who have felt trapped in their silence and shame for years are finally finding their voices.
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