CFLPA files grievance against league over concussions

The Canadian Football League Players’ Association has filed a grievance against the CFL and all nine member clubs alleging that the league and its teams “have failed and continue to fail” to protect players from brain injuries and concussions.

The grievance has been filed on behalf of all current and former players represented by the CFLPA.

The move comes after the Supreme Court of Canada said last Thursday that it wouldn’t hear the concussion lawsuit brought by former player Arland Bruce against the CFL and former commissioner Mark Cohon. The decision came after two lower level B.C. courts 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.

The grievance was issued via letter to Stephen Shamie, the CFL’s legal counsel and managing partner at Hicks Morley in Toronto. In it, the union argues that the league failed to warn the players of the “risks and dangers” of injuries, implement rules and procedures to protect players and ensure that players have been fully rehabilitated from injuries suffered on the field.

“The Respondents knew or ought to have known that their failure to protect… [and] inform the players has resulted and would result in serious long-term injury to the players,” the letter from CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay reads. “The respondents have been negligent in their treatment of players… [and] have encouraged and required players to play in such a manner that results in injury.”

The CFLPA is asking the arbitrator to “fully compensate” injured players, implement policies and rule changes to reduce injury and seek coverage under provincial workers’ compensation plans.

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.

The grievance procedure outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the league and union gives the CFL 20 days to respond to the grievance.

The league issued a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“We are in receipt of a grievance from the Canadian Football League Players Association on the issue of concussions. We will respond to it in detail within the grievance process and not in the media,” it read. “We will continue to make player health and safety a top priority for our players. And we will continue to seek to work with the CFLPA on important player health and safety initiatives.

The full text of the CFLPA letter: