CHL civil suit lands in Alberta courts with certification hearing

CHL civil suit hearing lands in Alberta court

CALGARY — A civil suit launched by some junior hockey players against the Canadian Hockey League is about to be tested in Alberta.

A hearing to determine if the lawsuit can be certified as a class action is scheduled to start Tuesday in Calgary.

The CHL is the umbrella organization for the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior hockey leagues. It touts itself as the top development league for the NHL. Players range in age from 16 years old to 20.

The lawsuit, filed in Ontario in 2014, claims players have been paid less than the minimum wage required by law in their regions and asks for $180 million in back wages, overtime and vacation pay, as well as punitive damages.

The suit contends the standard agreements players sign pay them as little as $35 per week for between 40 to 65 hours of work.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The CHL contends the players are “amateur student-athletes” and points to the approximately $6 million it pays out annually in post-secondary scholarships.

Ted Charney, whose Toronto law firm represents the plaintiffs, has said the crux of the lawsuit isn’t whether the players are professional or amateur, but whether they are employees of their teams or “independent contractors.”

As of November, a total of 221 players from the OHL and WHL had registered to join the suit should it be certified as a class action.

The WHL’s head office is in Calgary. A certification hearing is scheduled for March in Toronto, where the OHL is headquartered.

A similar action has been taken against the QMJHL and its clubs. A certification hearing has not been scheduled.

The CHL has applied to seal financial records, scholarship data and revenue-sharing agreements. 

That application will be heard in Calgary prior to the certification hearing, which is scheduled to conclude Friday. It could take several weeks for a decision on certification.

The CHL recently made public a report by KPMG analysts that gives an economic overview of the WHL and OHL. The report doesn’t identify which teams make or lose the most money.

The KPMG report states that from 2012 to 2016, the combined pre-tax income of all 22 WHL teams added up to an annual average loss of $213,158, with half of the teams in the league losing money.

At the extreme ends of the scale, one unidentified WHL team’s average annual net income was reported to be $1.8 million, while another team was losing an average of $1.5 million per year. 

There are more than 1,300 players on 60 privately owned and community-owned CHL teams stretching from Victoria to Halifax, as well as eight teams based in the United States.

The Canadian Press