The Western Hockey League released today the findings of an independent investigation of allegations made by former WHL players and a parent at an Oregon Senate Hearing this past February. The independent investigation was conducted for the WHL by retired RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens.
On February 28, 2018, an Oregon Senate Committee conducted a hearing to review a Bill that would confirm that amateur athletes should not be subject to employment standards legislation in the state of Oregon. The WHL requested the State of Oregon clarify this matter to ensure WHL players, as members of the Canadian and U.S. amateur hockey systems, would not be subject to employment standards. Previously, the WHL had obtained similar exemptions for WHL players and amateur athletes in the state of Washington and the western provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The Oregon Senate Hearing was attended by those supporting the Bill including the WHL Commissioner and representatives of the Portland Winterhawks. Randy Gumbley and other representatives of WAIPU, a self-proclaimed hockey union, also participated in the hearing to oppose the Bill, along with former WHL players Tyler Maxwell and James McEwan, and Kim Taylor, mother of WHL alumnus Garrett Taylor. Mr. Maxwell and Mr. McEwan, who testified in person, and Mrs. Taylor, who participated by telephone, made a total of 14 allegations of unacceptable conditions while playing in the WHL.
The WHL Commissioner and other WHL representatives in attendance indicated that these allegations were very serious and it should not be considered as an accurate reflection of the WHL player experience. Immediately following the hearing, former teammates, coaches and others directly associated with the WHL teams affected expressed concern about the accuracy of the statements by these former players. It was also discovered, soon after the hearing, that Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Taylor had joined WAIPU as executive members.
Based on the serious nature of the allegations, the WHL elected to conduct an independent investigation through its legal counsel. The WHL’s counsel retained Mr. Callens, an independent and experienced third party, to investigate the allegations made by the former players and the parent.
Over 50 of Tyler Maxwell, James McEwan and Garrett Taylor’s teammates, managers, coaches, trainers, education advisors, team doctors and billets were interviewed as part of the investigation by Mr. Callens which took several months to conduct. When the investigation was concluded, Mr. Callens found that all of the allegations made by Tyler Maxwell and James McEwan were either false or unfounded. None of the allegations made by these former WHL players could be established as being accurate. Only one allegation, raised by Kim Taylor on behalf of her son Garrett, was supported by the evidence collected.
A summary of the conclusion from Mr. Callens report on the Oregon Senate Hearing investigation is below:
Tyler Maxwell acknowledged in his testimony before the Senate Committee that he was “…totally impressed and thrilled with the first‐class state of the art facilities, the town and the hockey program…” at the time he signed with the Everett Silvertips. He was quoted in a local Everett, Washington news article as recently as February, 2017 referring to the Silvertips organization as “…first class and that’s the way its continued to be…” Similarly, James McEwan has been quoted making like comments with respect to the Kelowna Rockets organization and the personal development he underwent while playing for the Club. At first blush, one might have difficulty reconciling such comments with their testimony before the Senate Committee.
However, it is reasonable to expect that an individual may have some lesser experiences over the course of playing for a number of years in the WHL, or any other competitive sports league, and he should be allowed to share them freely without criticism. Similarly, he should be free to engage in whatever labour movement he chooses. What is not reasonable is to make comments that are not fact based, that are misleading, unnecessarily provocative and inflammatory, or are inconsistent with the agreements that were signed in the presence of a parent in which the player, and the parent, indicated that they understood the content. To do so undermines the credibility of the player and the integrity of whatever agenda may be influencing their conduct.
The WHL Commissioner advised that there is nothing more important to the WHL, or the individual teams, than the experience of the player. The League wants to sign the most skilled players and put the best possible product on the ice. In order to do so, they need to deliver on their commitment to provide a positive player experience in the WHL. The review revealed that there are a significant number of comprehensive and modern policies and programs in place that support player development, health and wellness, and post‐secondary education.
After interviewing in excess of 50 people, our review concluded that the issues identified by Tyler Maxwell, James McEwan and Kim Taylor were not systemic to the League or to a particular team. In all but one of the cases, the players were either aware of the terms of the agreements or there was insufficient, and at times no evidence, to establish the allegation.
There will be no further comment from Mr. Callens.
Mr. Callens’ report is very clear in that virtually all of the statements made by these former WHL players were either false or unfounded. The statements made by these former players not only served to mislead members of the Oregon Senate but also completely misrepresented what the WHL player experience is all about. The WHL takes our responsibility for the health and well-being of our players very seriously. Our number one priority is to deliver a world-class player experience, which includes providing a safe and healthy environment for players at all times. The WHL takes great offense to the statements made by these former players and WAIPU representatives. We are particularly concerned regarding the role of a non-registered entity such as WAIPU in this process and are pursuing the legal remedies available to address these misleading and false statements. With respect to the one allegation that was supported in the investigation, the WHL will take the necessary steps to introduce a new policy in this area as it relates to the release or trading of players.