Former Kelowna Rockets captain suing league for 'encouraged violence' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Former Kelowna Rockets captain suing league for 'encouraged violence'

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The former team captain of the Kelowna Rockets was involved in more than 70 fights during his five years playing in the Western Hockey League.

Now James McEwan is three-and-a-half years into a legal fight against his former league, accusing the Canadian Hockey League of being negligent by "promoting and glorifying violence amongst players."

The one-time enforcer, who spent between 2004 and 2008 playing for the league starting with the Seattle Thunderbirds and later becoming captain of the Kelowna Rockets, turned to pain medications and alcohol to cope with the anxiety, mood swings, and angry outbursts he began to experience at the end of his hockey career.

In 2019 McEwan filed a legal suit against the Canadian Hockey League, the Western Hockey League and Hockey Canada.

His notice of claim stated that the leagues, which are for players 16 to 20 years old, "perpetuated an environment that permitted, condoned, and encouraged fighting and violence" in the game among the underage players that they were "obliged to protect." 

McEwan claims in the court documents that as an enforcer, he was encouraged by coaches and other members of the CHL to fight and be aggressive.

"I was commended for my fights by my coaches, teammates, and by management. After I’d win a fight, my coaches would praise me in the locker room and, if I lost, the coaches would explain how I could do better," the court document reads.

McEwan seeks damages from the league for personal and physical injury, psychological injuries, special damages, cost of future care, and loss of income both past and future, along with loss of housekeeping capacity.

He also proposes a class action suit for anyone that played in the CHL from 1974 onwards to be eligible for compensation.

Unsurprisingly the hockey leagues have fought back and argued that much of what McEwan, along with three other former CHL players, had filed in court should be thrown out, including a report from an expert witness.

In a June 30 B.C. Supreme Court decision, Justice Neena Sharma sided largely with McEwan although did dismiss some evidence from being presented to the court, finding that it was either hearsay, irrelevant, or opinion from a non-expert.

In the lengthy, 22,000-word decision, the Justice breaks down sentence by sentence multiple affidavits as the hockey league argues the evidence should be struck from the record.

The court documents contain affidavits filed by former hockey players Myles Stoesz, Rhett Trombley, and Eric Rylands.

Stoesz, who played for the Spokane Chiefs, said he accumulated over 800 penalty minutes during his CHL career from 2003 to 2007. He also received boxing lessons as part of his team training.

"I want the CHL to acknowledge that what we had to do to play in the CHL as teenagers was not acceptable," Stoesz says in his affidavit. "Looking back at my career in the CHL, I feel like I lost part of my youth. My time in Spokane was a daze of fights. I’m scared about my future because I took repeated blows to my head. I’m in my early 30s and I suffer from headaches and migraines and my right hand is disfigured with a mallet finger from punching."

The hockey league wants Stoesz's statement thrown out of court saying it's an "improper opinion."

The justice didn't fully agree, although did dismiss some of the sentences from his affidavit.

"I find they are admissible as facts based on Mr. Stoesz’s experience and demonstrating his state of mind," the Justice said.

Trombley says he was involved in up to 100 fights during his career in the early 1990s. He describes his role as an enforcer as a "boxer on ice." His hands were so swollen from punching that he couldn't hold a pencil at school the next day and his coaches would put his hands in ice to reduce the swelling so he could get them back into his gloves.

Along with vigorously dissecting every sentence in the affidavits filed by the former enforcers, the hockey leagues also attempted to throw out an expert report written by a professor with a Ph.D. in amateur sport management.

The hockey leagues argue the professor is not a qualified expert, and the report is "unnecessary, unreliable, and irrelevant."

The Justice disagreed and let the report stand.

Ultimately, the Justice dismissed around a dozen paragraphs from the filed affidavits and allows the case to continue through the courts.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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