Judge orders CHL teams to reveal financial records as players attempt to sue
Brandon Wheat Kings player Meyer Nell (middle) tries to score on Calgary Hitmen goalie Kyle Dumba during WHL action at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Jan. 29, 2017. (Leah Hennel/Postmedia Network)
Canadian Hockey League teams are offside in withholding detailed financial records that are being sought be players seeking a minimum wage from them, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Justice Robert Hall said the teams, which include Western Hockey League club Calgary Hitmen, must unseal those records included in 7,000 pages of documents to provide a clear indication of their financial status.
He rejected league counsel Norman Machida's contention such a disclosure would hurt the teams' competitive position and noted the league had used the information to publicly lobby in its favour.
"The defendants are making use of the documents so it would be entirely unfair not to allow the plaintiffs to use these documents in reply," Hall told Court of Queen's Bench.
He also said those records should be specified with each individual team, something Machida had argued against.
More than 200 current and former players have signaled their willingness to pursue a $180 million class action suit that's yet to be certified.
They've named the CHL, along with the WHL, Quebec and Ontario hockey leagues.
Hall is presiding over the argument on whether that class action will be certified, with the would-be plaintiff players claiming they're business employees rather than amateur athletes the league insists they are.
Earlier, Machida argued two reports on the teams' financial posture already showed most of them are either money-losers or break-even clubs.
"There would be a significant financial impact on the teams if a minimum wage was imposed," he said, adding the average loss recorded by the clubs is $91,000 a year.
A minimum wage would cost each team $300,000 a year and wouldn't be sustainable, said Machida.
But players' lawyer Ted Charney said that wouldn't be clear until all the financial records were released, arguing it's possible the figures made public are based on selective and incomplete data.
"Without looking at the financial records there's image here that's being portrayed," said Charney.
For example, he said $20 million the teams claimed is used for player scholarships and included in their expenses might not all be spent.
Two ex-WHL players who attended the hearing Tuesday said they're eager to see what the financial statements show and said current players should be treated with more respect.
"A lot of other guys' salaries and paycheques are based on what we do on the ice and we don't get any compensation," said Kyle O'Connor who played 2 1/2 seasons for the Kootenay Ice.
He said he was paid $125 every two weeks, adding he didn't receive proper compensation for his injuries.
The disclosure of the documents ordered by Hall will likely take a few days as personal information in them is redacted.
The certification hearing in Calgary is expected to take three more days.