Calgary

Junior hockey class-action lawsuit lands for certification hearing in Calgary

Major junior hockey players who are fighting to earn at least minimum wage in Canada took their case before a Calgary judge Tuesday, starting a four-day hearing to determine whether their multimillion-dollar claim can proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

Players seek $180M from CHL and affiliated leagues in wages, holiday pay and vacation pay

Players from the Red Deer Rebels watch from the bench during a 2016 game against the Kelowna Rockets. A Calgary judge is presiding over a four-day hearing into whether a class-action lawsuit on behalf of junior hockey players in the CHL and affiliated leagues can proceed. (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Major junior hockey players fighting to earn at least minimum wage in Canada took their case before a Calgary judge Tuesday in a hearing to determine whether their multimillion-dollar claim can proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

The players are seeking $180 million to cover wages, holiday pay and vacation pay for both current and former players. 

They've named the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), as well as the affiliated Ontario, Western, and Quebec major junior hockey leagues and the team owners in a series of class-action lawsuits

The first step toward certifying the class-action lawsuits begins on Tuesday in Calgary.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Halll will oversee a four-day hearing pertaining to the Western Hockey League (WHL) — which includes the Calgary Hitmen — before deciding whether the legal action can proceed.

Warning of bankruptcy

The CHL has argued the franchises would go bankrupt if they had to pay the players minimum wage.

Justice Hall decided Tuesday that earnings figures of 42 teams in the WHL and the OHL can be made public for the purposes of the lawsuit. 

In a statement released after the ruling, the CHL said the documents will support its position.

"These financials and the analysis reinforce that overall the leagues are not overly profitable and in any given year, the majority of CHL Clubs either break even or lose money," the statement said.

Lukas Walker, who played for three years in the CHL, says changes are needed to make contracts more fair for major junior hockey players. (CBC)

CHL vice-president and WHL commissioner Ron Robison wrote in a newspaper editorial last fall that the leagues cover "all the necessary expenses needed to compete at the highest level of the Canadian amateur hockey system, including top-of-the-line equipment, room and board and travel costs."

Robison said the CHL provides players with a year of tuition, textbooks and compulsory fees for each year they play in the WHL.

But former player Lukas Walter, who is one of the complainants, says strict expiry rules on those benefits left him without any tuition money because he didn't enrol in time.

The 24-year-old, who played for three years with the Tri-City Americans and the Saint John Sea Dogs, says he'd just like to see players treated more fairly. 

"I lived the dream, it was fun, I loved playing hockey and all that. But you've got to think past hockey sometimes. And you don't think about that when you're at the rink," he said.

"I have a little brother who's in the league now. And it'd be awesome if the league did some changes … who knows, maybe a little bit more money, maybe he can take his time and decide what he wants to take in school." 

Hearings for the OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League lawsuits will be held separately

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