John Craighead, coach and majority owner of Surrey Knights, on the bench during his PJHL team’s season-opening game Sept. 6 at North Surrey Recreation Centre. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Courtroom win for Surrey Knights in hockey team’s battle with league

Judge orders PJHL to ‘take no further action’ against franchise relating to incident in 2015 game

The Surrey Knights hockey team doesn’t win on the ice much, but the franchise has scored a victory in a Vancouver courtroom.

A Supreme Court of B.C. judge has sided with the Knights ownership tandem in their battle with the Pacific Junior Hockey League, or PJHL, which had moved to expel the team from the league last year.

The judge has ordered PJHL operators to “immediately cease any proceedings” against Knights’ co-owners John Craighead and Amar Gill relating to an incident during a game three years ago, and “take no further action” against them.

In September of 2015, Craighead, who also coaches the team, was involved in an altercation with an opposing coach and player during a game in Langley, where the Knights were based prior to the team moving to Surrey in the fall of 2016, for home games at North Surrey rec centre.

For his actions, Craighead was initially suspended for six years, but the suspension, on appeal, was later reduced to three years by Hockey Canada.

In a 55-page Reasons for Judgment published Friday (Oct. 12), Madam Justice Janet Winteringham found “the PJHL violated the requirements of procedural fairness” for initiating a move to oust the team from the league almost 21 months after the in-game incident in Langley.

As well, “the conduct of the PJHL, in targeting the team, in addition to the other failures, was unfairly prejudicial” to Craighead and Gill.

This hockey season, Craighead has returned to coach the team, which is winless in 11 games and earned just a single victory all last season.

• RELATED STORY: Surrey Knights end two-year winless streak, from November 2017.

Earlier this year, the Knights ownership group went to court to seek relief from the PJHL.

In the spring of 2017, within days of Hockey Canada’s decision to reduce Craighead’s suspension to three years, the PJHL moved to expel the Surrey Knights from its league, according to a section of Justice Winteringham’s Reasons for Judgment.

“It is the motion to expel that is the subject of this Petition,” the judge wrote. “Mr. Craighead says it is unfair to commence new proceedings against him because he has already been tried, convicted and sentenced. The Surrey Knights say the move to expel the team, almost two years later and without any forewarning to the team, violates the principles of procedural fairness and is contrary to the provisions of the Societies Act. In response, the PJHL asserts its right to govern its membership and to suspend or expel those members that bring embarrassment to their league.”

In a formal complaint brought before league president Ray Stonehouse in June 2017, in the days following Hockey Canada’s decision to reduce Craighead’s suspension, PJHL vice-president Jim Eaton wrote that Craighead “has not observed the suspension imposed on him. He has regularly observed practices and tryouts, interacted with and given instructions to the coach, and has participated in at least one team meeting.”

Eaton also wrote that “Mr. Craighead remains as the majority owner of the Surrey Knights, and the connection between the PJHL and the Surrey Knights continues to negatively impact the public image of the PJHL. I believe that for all of these reasons, the governors should seriously consider whether the Surrey Knights should be suspended or expelled from the PJHL.”

• RELATED STORY: Craighead to return as Surrey Knights coach, team says, after serving two-year suspension, from March 2018.

A hearing followed, and league governors were told they “could base their decision to expel the team solely on the basis of Mr. Craighead’s conduct,” according to Justice Winteringham’s findings.

After examining the Societies Act, the judge found that “the PJHL’s treatment of the petitioners (Craighead and Gill) lacked probity and fair dealing.”

Wrote the judge: “I make this finding based on the reasons set out above including the failure to provide sufficient notice and the failure to remove Mr. Stonehouse as a decision-maker. The lack of fair dealing is particularly evident with regard to the Surrey Knights and Mr. Gill. The PJHL did not recognize the interests of the team when it commenced the proceedings to expel. This was in circumstances where the team and Mr. Gill were at all time innocent of any wrongdoing and the PJHL never suggested otherwise.

“The PJHL’s target was Mr. Craighead – this much was clear when I examine the events leading up to the hearing and the hearing itself,” Winteringham continued. “In addition to my findings regarding procedural fairness, the PJHL’s decision to seek the expulsion of the team and Mr. Gill, in the circumstances presented here, was oppressive and contrary to section 102(1)(a) of the Societies Act.”

The Knights’ most recent game saw the team lose 8-1 to Delta on home ice, last Thursday (Oct. 11). The Knights’ next game is Thursday (Oct. 18) against Abbotsford, at North Surrey rec centre starting at 7:45 p.m. The team is online at surreyknights.ca.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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