Supreme Court decision leaves Bruce with few options in concussion case

Dan Ralph, Canadian Press

Arland Bruce III won’t be having his day in court.

The Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday it won’t hear Bruce’s concussion lawsuit against the CFL and former commissioner Mark Cohon. The decision came after two B.C. courts – the Supreme Court of British Columbia and British Columbia Court of Appeal – dismissed the suit, saying the Supreme Court previously ruled unionized employees must use labour arbitration and not the courts to resolve disputes that arise from their collective agreement.

Bruce’s lawyers argued the CFL’s collective agreement is unusual because athletes individually negotiate their pay, have no long-term disability insurance plan, are excluded from occupational health and safety regulations and aren’t entitled to workers compensation.

As usual in decisions on leaves to appeal, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for refusing to hear the case.

“I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t saddened and surprised,” said Robyn Wishart, Bruce’s lawyer. “I’m surprised because I thought (Supreme Court of Canada) would hear it.

“You don’t get any reasons for it . . . you can’t answer the ‘Why?’ And that’s hard for me because so many families were waiting for this and obviously that’s the first question they have, but this isn’t over.”

Wishart said she’ll take Bruce’s case to arbitration.

“We’ll file Monday and have his injuries looked at through arbitration,” she said. “That’s obviously a process that isn’t necessarily to his advantage . . . but we’ll run with arbitration and see how it goes.”

Predictably, the CFL was happy with the ruling.

“The CFL is very pleased with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision,” it said in a statement. “We hope that this decision brings finality to any proceedings in the courts with respect to concussion litigation against the CFL.”

Bruce, 40, had originally named neuroscientist Dr. Charles Tator, the Krembil Neuroscience Centre of Toronto, the Canadian Football League Alumni Association and its executive director, Leo Ezerins, in his suit. But action was discontinued against them as they weren’t bound by collective agreement.

Bruce played 14 seasons in the CFL (2001-2014) with Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, B.C. and Montreal, winning Grey Cups with the Argonauts (2004) and Lions (2011). Bruce filed his lawsuit in 2014.

In court documents, Bruce says he sustained “permanent and disabling” repetitive head trauma as a player and continues to suffer post-concussive symptoms, including depression, paranoia, delusions and other medical issues.

“All I can say is we took on a fight many people thought we shouldn’t start in the first place.” Wishart said. “Our definition of a win has always been the public needs to know so if we look at it from the definition of what our goal was, to have people understand what’s happening, we win.

“Do we win in the world of law? Not right now. But do we win in the world of life? I can’t tell you how much we’ve changed people.”

Wishart said Bruce continues to get his post-football life in order.

“If you were to look at where Arland Bruce III is now in comparison to when I met him, he is a productive member of B.C.,” she said. “He’s now got his permanent resident card, he’s up to date and working on his child support, he’s getting constant and regular medical treatment and support.

“He’s happy and functioning so we win. But do we want to get the players compensation so they can live better lives? Absolutely.”

And that’s why Wishart said a class-action claim for concussion-related damages involving over 200 former CFL players remains active. It was filed in Ontario in 2015 but had been on hold during Bruce’s legal proceedings.

“This is the law in British Columbia, it’s not the law in Ontario,” Wishart said. “In some small way not knowing why keeps the door open for us to keep this fight alive in Ontario and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

“Pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get ready to argue in the Ontario courts that the players have a right to their day in court. It’s a totally different argument, it’s players who’ve been out of the collective bargaining agreement for decades.”

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14 Comments on Supreme Court decision leaves Bruce with few options in concussion case

  1. Doug Mc Clintock // March 15, 2018 at 2:28 pm //

    14 years in the CFL and what have you got ? Memories of playing at a very good level and injuries that will be with you probably forever. Professional sport has it’s risks like no other.
    As an Argo fan he was a great receiver !

  2. Edward Leslie // March 15, 2018 at 2:56 pm //

    I support the CFL, but I take no joy for Arland Bruce “losing” this challenge. I hope he gets better and doesn’t develop CTE. The sport of football has lost far too many players too young because of the concussion problem. The CFL needs to do anything and everything to lessen the threat of traumatic injuries in football. I love the physical aspect of football as much as anyone, but the cost for our entertainment is too high.

  3. The CFL could do more to help players who are struggling. I’m glad the league isn’t being held culpable for concussions as a miulri million dollar settlement would bankrupt the CFL. That being said they need to do more than they are.

    • I agree the CFL could do more. The other problem is football players despite paying into our system can not receive workers comp.
      On one hand I say that he should win but that would probably bankrupt the CFL.
      The class action suit could still go ahead though

      • And there is the possibility that he could get a good settlement from arbitration and if he wins there it could open the door for the other 100 ex players to go to arbitration.

  4. If Bruce and other former players were financially comfortable with multi millions in the bank, how many of them would be chasing these concussion lawsuits?

    • But they aren’t financially comfortable.
      There are ex-NFL players chasing concussion lawsuits too and they are financially comfortable so I don’t understand your comment.

      • Most of the NFL players chasing the concussion lawsuits have squandered their money and are completely broke – – desperate for a six or seven figure handout.

        Who had more concussions than guys like Troy Aikman or Steve Young or Matt Dunigan or Buck Pierce? You don’t hear them whining about going to court for a handout.

        Difference is, they’ve all found gainful employment in their post football lives.

  5. Wishart’s flat out wrong when she says “This is the law in British Columbia, it’s not the law in Ontario.” It’s the law of the land period. Weber v. Ontario Hydro and New Brunswick v. O’Leary apply equally in every province the CFL does business.

  6. Green is the Color // March 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm //

    I have sympathy for Arland because of his health conditions. That said, I think the CFL is culpable only for allowing players to play injured. Playing on a sore ankle or knee is one thing, but playing too soon after incurring a solid head shot (concussion or not) too soon, puts players at risk. Something the CFL is addressing with its concussion protocols, though not perfect are a step in the right direction. Arland was fearless and for this reason he subjected himself to more head contact than most. He’s competitive so I am sure he was adamant to be put in, even when injured, including head shots. At the end of the day he has to take some responsibility for both his type of play, and his willingness to play injured. Now, after the fact, is too late IMO to complain about it.

    • If he had won the lawsuit it would have cleared the way for the other 100 ex-CFL players and it is likely that the CFL would not be able to pay them.
      The CFL is barely breaking even and wouldn’t be able to pay.
      The CFL is not off the hook, he will now go to arbitration and other ex-CFL players will have their turn. It could still cost the CFL a lot of money.

  7. Pennyrocker // March 15, 2018 at 4:38 pm //

    It is the risk you take when you become a professional at help
    athlete. Concussions are a major concern and a risk along with broken bones and bad joints. If football eliminated the hard hitting and was soft and easy why would you pay high contracts.

  8. CHOKEPEDERS // March 15, 2018 at 4:44 pm //

    Thats great news for the CFL! Take a long hike off a short pier Bruce

    • He still has arbitration and they will have to deal with the OTHER ex-CFL players. So it may not be great news for you and the CFL.
      You will should have said Bruce and the other 100 ex-CFLers should take a long hike.

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