CFL Players' Association files grievance against league over safety

The CFL Players' Association has filed a grievance against the CFL related to player safety and rehabilitation.

Claim alleges that league, clubs 'failed' to protect players

The CFL Players' Association's grievance comes less than a week after the Supreme Court chose not to hear the case former player Arland Bruce III. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The CFL Players' Association has filed a grievance against the CFL related to player safety and rehabilitation.

The claim, announced in a statement released by the union Wednesday morning, alleges the league and its member clubs "have chosen not to act on their obligation to care for CFL players who sustain long-term injuries on the field, despite their responsibility to do so."

In a letter dated Sunday to Stephen Shamie, the CFL's legal representative, the CFLPA added it filed the grievance on behalf of all current and former players it has represented.

The union contends it's incumbent upon the CFL to warn its players "of the risk and dangers of injuries, to inform them of safety concerns and to properly compensate players who sustain injuries," while they're employed by clubs. The CFLPA alleged the CFL "failed in their duties to the players."

The CFLPA has asked an arbitrator to fully compensate players "injured as a result of the respondent's failures and negligence," with "damages and interest where appropriate." It also requested the implementation of policy and rule changes aimed at the reduction of injury as well as coverage under provincial workers' compensation plans.

"We are in receipt of a grievance from the Canadian Football League Players Association on the issue of concussions," the CFL said in a statement. "We will respond to it in detail within the grievance process and not in the media.

"We will continue to make player health and safety a top priority for our players. And we will continue to seek to work with the CFLPA on important player health and safety initiatives."

Supreme Court denies Bruce

The move comes less than a week after the Supreme Court of Canada said it wouldn't hear former CFL player Arland Bruce III's concussion lawsuit against the league and former commissioner Mark Cohon.

That decision came after two B.C. courts — the Supreme Court of British Columbia and British Columbia Court of Appeal — dismissed the suit, saying the Supreme Court previously ruled unionized employees must use labour arbitration and not the courts to resolve disputes that arise from their collective agreement.

Bruce's lawyers have argued the CFL's collective agreement is unusual because athletes individually negotiate their pay, have no long-term disability insurance plan, are excluded from occupational health and safety regulations and aren't entitled to workers' compensation.

Robyn Wishart, Bruce's lawyer, said she'll take her client's case to arbitration.

"Player safety and rehabilitation are priorities for our membership but the CFL has repeatedly denied our request to discuss a fair and affordable extended rehabilitation and compensation plan that would bridge the gap of care needed by players in 2018," said Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA's executive director. "By failing to enact this plan, the CFL is failing to ensure both duty and responsibility of care required by the [collective bargaining agreement].

"CFL players deserve necessary and required coverage to fully rehabilitate serious injuries suffered while playing. The CFL has a duty to protect the players and provide that coverage."

The grievance also claims the league has failed to seek coverage for players under the relevant workers' compensation legislation in each province where it operates.

Bruce, 40, played 14 seasons in the CFL (2001-2014) with Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, B.C. and Montreal, winning Grey Cups with the Argonauts (2004) and Lions (2011). Bruce filed his lawsuit in 2014.

In court documents, Bruce says he sustained "permanent and disabling" repetitive head trauma as a player and continues to suffer post-concussive symptoms, including depression, paranoia, delusions and other medical issues.

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