Email furor has NHL players on edge

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Email furor has NHL players on edge

Police investigate complaints union breached privacy

Mar 05, 2007 04:30 AM

Rick Westhead

Sports Business Columnist

Toronto police are investigating complaints that executives at the NHL Players Association accessed and in some cases blocked the email accounts of players who have challenged the hiring of the union's executive director.

The allegations by players is the latest salvo in the battle for control of the splintered Toronto-based union.

Last month, the players voted for an independent investigation into the hiring of NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin in July 2005.

The investigation is also looking into the circumstances that led to the players association accepting a labour contract that included for the first time a cap on player salaries.

For the past two weeks, police have been looking into whether Saskin and Ken Kim, the union's senior director of business, ordered technical support staff at the union to access player email accounts hosted by the union, and whether such an action would be illegal, four sources familiar with the investigation told the Star.

Toronto police have now presented their findings to a Crown counsel, who will decide whether there is enough evidence to lay criminal charges.

Ken Kim declined to comment last night and referred calls to union spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon.

Earlier in the day, Weatherdon had said he wasn't aware of the police investigation. He didn't return later calls and emails.

Told yesterday of the police investigation, several NHLPA team representatives said many players would be angry if the allegations turn out to be true.

"There would be trust lost, for sure," said Keith Ballard of Phoenix Coyotes.

Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said: "If something was going on like that, a lot of guys are going to be upset. There's an assumption that our email accounts are private."

Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Johnson said he was "concerned" about the allegations but didn't want to form an opinion until police decide whether to lay charges.

Legal experts say if police do proceed, it would amount to a landmark case. There are no known instances in Canada of charges being laid over improper accessing of email.

It is alleged that in some cases, NHLPA officials blocked email correspondence between dissident players who have used an email account hosted by the union.

"Union staff would see a player's email and know they were mad and pick up the phone and call them and say, `Hey, do you want to talk about this?'" one source close to the investigation told the Star.

"They basically tried to take the wind out of the sail of any complaint by illicitly tapping players' emails."

Detroit Red Wings veteran defenceman Chris Chelios says more than 200 of the league's 700 players are angry about the manner in which Saskin was hired.

Chelios and the others allege that Saskin and Trevor Linden, a player with the Vancouver Canucks who was president of the NHLPA when Saskin was hired, inappropriately fired Saskin's predecessor, Bob Goodenow. Linden has not been accused of accessing player emails.

Chelios, Edmonton Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson and former Los Angeles Kings forward Trent Klatt, who is now retired, have argued that the entire union membership should have had a say in whether Goodenow was fired. They also say a search committee should have been formed to find a successor.

"The union has become completely dysfunctional," said Steve Larmer, a former Chicago Blackhawks star who quit his position at the union in 2005 over the controversy. "There are very few players who trust anything that goes on these days at the union."

Sources say three Toronto police detectives recently took videotaped testimony about the email allegations from Roloson and from union staff.

Several high-ranking staff have already quit the union over the controversy, including Ian Pulver, a long-time union lawyer who is now a player agent, and Larmer.

A source close to the investigation said several players and union staff have known for months that NHLPA executives were accessing private email accounts. The question of whether it was legal was raised by some players after reading news accounts of the recent Hewlett-Packard Co. boardroom-spying scandal in the U.S. Some players believed the alleged unauthorized email access was criminal.

In the Hewlett-Packard case, executives anxious to determine whether board members were leaking sensitive data to news media hired investigators who obtained the private phone records of the directors and others. The company's chairman, Patricia Dunn, resigned because of her complicity.

In Canada, Section 184 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the interception of communications, says, "everyone who, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, wilfully intercepts a private communication is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years."

The act defines intercepting as listening to, recording or acquiring a communication.

University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, an expert on Internet law who has no first-hand knowledge of the NHLPA complaint, said that while most employers routinely tell their staff that they monitor their work emails, that doesn't mean the NHLPA's administrative staff would have the right to do the same with players.

"The fact is that the players' employers are their hockey teams," Geist said. "The union's administration doesn't have carte blanche to go and do whatever they want, reading emails."

Several players said the union has never informed them that their accounts might be monitored.

"Snooping crosses the line when you're doing it surreptitiously," Geist said. "And if you're looking at email and not telling players about it, that likely crosses the line."

Still, several criminal lawyers said it's unclear how Section 184 might be applied to email. Toronto lawyer John Rosen said he was unaware of any charges resulting from illegal access to email.

"Is intercepting an email or blocking it the same as acquiring? It's a grey area," Rosen said.

Even if the complaints don't result in charges, the allegations may further roil a union already in tatters.

The independent report on NHLPA activities by Toronto lawyer Sheila Block is expected by this summer.

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It's time to do some major house cleaning at the NHLPA. They've done plenty to hurt the game from an overal game standpoint and as a rep for the players themselves.

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It gets worse....

NHLPA facing renewed scrutiny


From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Already under criticism from several directions, National Hockey League Players' Association boss Ted Saskin has been asked by a former player agent to explain the union's handling of tens of millions of dollars in player funds.

Windsor lawyer Patrick Ducharme, representing Bob Probert, Jeremy Roenick and Denis Savard, has been among the loudest voices asking why funds left over from the 2004-05 lockout war chest have yet to be distributed.

And while the NHLPA insists some of those funds are about to be dispersed to past and current players under a formula recently approved by its 30 player representatives, Ducharme said he has received no response from a letter he sent to Saskin on Dec. 21, 2006, about the union's accounting and monetary management practices.

Ducharme, who did not apply for recertification as a player agent during the lockout, has not been alone asking Saskin for details on the handling of NHLPA funds. Similar letters were forwarded to the union in December from Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios and former player Ed Olczyk.

Ducharme's December letter, which was also addressed to NHLPA executive committee members Kevyn Adams, Daniel Alfredsson, Alyn McCauley, Wade Redden, Mathieu Schneider and Marty Turco, demands answers to 11 questions.

They are as follows:

"1. Did you know that over a three-year period (2000 to 2003), $27,044,000 [all figures U.S.] was invested in a single U.S. mutual fund instead of being distributed to current and former players? Why was only one mutual fund used? Was any thought given to the consequences if this fund failed?

"2. Did you know that during fiscal year 2002, $76,611,000 was invested in corporate bonds and $10,132,000 was invested in government of Canada bonds instead of being distributed?

"3. Did you know that in fiscal year 2003, $32,654,000 was invested in corporate bonds?

"4. Who selected these investments and who received commissions on these investments?

"5. Did you know that the funds distributed during the lockout amounted to $57,778,000 and that the balance of the $146,450,000 in investments is still being held rather than distributed to members?

"6. Did you know that the exchange rate for Canadian dollars declined from $1.5162 in 2003 to $1.12035 in September 2006 resulting in currency translation losses of $35,000,000? If the money had instead been distributed to the members, this loss would have been avoided.

"7. Did you know that in fiscal year 2002, a loan of $2,970,000 was written off as a bad debt? Who borrowed this money? Who approved the loan?

"8. Did you know that in fiscal year 2005, $9,417,000 was spent on collective bargaining negotiations? How much did the NHL spend? If the amounts are significantly different and the NHL's expense was significantly lower, what is the reason?

"9. Did you know that the association is holding $165,982,000 in cash and 'long-term investments' instead of distributing this to its members? Why does it take the NHLPA close to $7,000,000 annually to operate? What is the NHLPA doing with the rest of the money it holds? Why is it holding such significant amounts?

"10. Has the committee considered that an accumulation of this capital might endanger the tax-exempt status of the NHLPA? Has the committee discussed and considered that a loss of its tax-exempt status might endanger a large portion of the accumulated funds? Has the committee been provided with my letter dated March 20, 2006, seeking confirmation of the information provided to me by Ted Saskin, Stu Grimson and Ian Penny on March 9, 2006?

"11. Do the committee members know that the executive director [of the NHLPA] promised that there would be a distribution of funds to the entitled past and present members by July 2006? Why has that not happened?"

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