Minor league coach takes Hockey Manitoba, ref to court over lifetime ban following 2023 disputes

A minor league Winnipeg hockey coach is taking three hockey organizations and a referee to court, alleging he was penalized unfairly with a lifetime coaching ban for an on-ice dispute that escalated outside after the game.

David Brown is seeking damages from the St. Vital Minor Hockey Association, Hockey Winnipeg and Hockey Manitoba’s board for failing to adhere more formally to their own complaints and appeals processes, according to a statement of claim filed in Court of King’s Bench on May 21. 

In a separate statement of claim filed the same day, Brown also seeks damages for alleged “defamatory statements” made by the referee and Hockey Winnipeg’s appeals chairperson.

The suits stem from incidents involving him during and after a March 4, 2023, hockey game.

Together, the claims suggest he was informed by St. Vital Minor Hockey Association on March 7, 2023, that the organization was investigating an on-ice incident at St. Vital Centennial Arena, and Hockey Winnipeg was investigating a post-game incident.

Brown, an assistant coach for an under-18 team, was ordered to leave the rink during the March 4 game. The ref went on to submit video showing Brown shouting something — which the ref claimed was “I will f–king end you,” according to Brown’s statement of claim.

Brown admits he lost his temper but maintains that’s not what he said.

The ref also said that after the game, Brown pulled in behind his truck so that he couldn’t back out, according to the lawsuit — something Brown also refutes.

The ref also suggests Brown struck the driver’s side window of his truck with his hand, but Brown says he never touched the vehicle.

Brown wasn’t allowed to attend any hockey arenas during the course of the months-long investigation that ensued, and was notified in October of a lifetime coaching ban in the St. Vital Minor Hockey Association. He was put on probation as a spectator for the coming hockey season, the court documents state.

Brown sought an appeal but was told to take it up with Hockey Winnipeg.

He argues that was a breach of the St. Vital Minor Hockey Association bylaws and constitution, which include guidance on how to navigate the disciplinary and grievance processes.

A closeup photo shows the skates of players chasing after a puck on a skating rink.
Brown, who works as a high school physical education teacher, suggests he suffered reputational damage that could hamper his future job prospects. (dotshock/Shutterstock)

Hockey Winnipeg and Hockey Manitoba both did their own investigations at Brown’s request. They upheld the initial ruling, court documents suggest.

Brown filed in January for a judicial review with Manitoba Court of King’s Bench. He asserts that the scope of the hockey bodies’ investigations and appeals mechanisms should’ve been approached more formally as legal issues.

He also accuses members of the organizations of providing each other with prejudicial information through “backroom” discussions outside the bounds of the appeals processes.

Ref tried to get ‘retribution’: Brown

According to Brown’s lawsuit, Hockey Winnipeg’s chairperson said in an email to the organization’s executive director that Brown “lost his mind on the bench and had to be restrained by his team” in the March 4 incident.

Brown admits he lost his temper but maintains he was of “sound mind” and didn’t require being restrained.

The lawsuit also says the referee alleged Brown tried to “follow him home” after the game.

Brown maintains they both live in the same direction, and that it was in fact the ref who was following him. Brown says when he realized the ref was following him he was “worried for his safety,” so pulled over and then followed the ref for a short period in order to record his licence plate.

Brown said emails he obtained between the referee and the Hockey Winnipeg appeals chairperson included a statement from the chairperson that read, “We have enough witnesses to his crazy.”

Brown said he had a prior dispute with the referee about a month before the March 4 game and suggests that was a factor in how the disciplinary process unfolded.

He had lodged a complaint against the referee with the St. Boniface Minor Hockey association in February last year regarding what he termed the ref’s “inappropriate conduct” in a game that month.

The ref’s comments to administrators in Brown’s appeal attempt were “malicious, likely made as retribution” for the prior complaint and the confrontation in March, Brown’s statement of claim says.

Brown works as a high school physical education teacher and said the disciplinary outcome has “permanently compromised” his future job prospects.

The referee, Brown and Hockey Manitoba declined to provide statements to CBC News.

St. Vital Minor Hockey Association explained it’s “very rare for an event of this magnitude [to] take place” in the association.

Hockey Winnipeg executive director Ian McArton declined to comment on details of the case.

In a statement, he described the appeals process as a “linear chain” that begins with minor hockey associations and escalates from there to Hockey Winnipeg, Hockey Manitoba and Hockey Canada. 

McArton said minor hockey associations “rarely” ban coaches or spectators and tend toward short-term suspensions “to correct behaviour.”

He estimated Hockey Winnipeg receives one or two cases per season that rise to the level of Brown’s.

Brown and Hockey Manitoba board members are scheduled for a case management conference on June 13.