No ‘guard rails’ from CFL for independent investigation into allegations against Chad Kelly, Argos: Ambrosie

Photo: Reuben Polansky/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Canadian Football League has hired an independent investigator to scrutinize the allegations made against the Toronto Argonauts and franchise quarterback Chad Kelly.

In his first public comments about the lawsuit, commissioner Randy Ambrosie insisted the investigator would be given carte blanche to probe all aspects of the case, resulting in an extensive report.

“Our instructions to our investigators were clear. We want to have a clear understanding of exactly what’s taken place here,” he told reporters in Vancouver. “We didn’t put guard rails up, we didn’t ask them to limit the scope of their inquiry. We’ve asked them to investigate this to the full extent and we expect that they will investigate it to its full extent.”

According to a report from TSN’s Rick Westhead, a former strength and conditioning coach is suing the Argos for alleged wrongful dismissal and Kelly for alleged harassment during the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

The league was advised by the Argonauts about the accusations against them and Kelly on February 22, the same day as Westhead’s report. After initial fact-finding by his staff, the commissioner authorized an investigation before going home that evening.

A process plan was created on February 23 and an independent investigator was hired with all parties involved being informed of the investigation on February 26. A formal written notification was delivered the following day before the league made an official statement for the first time on February 28.

“We’re gonna let the process play out. We’ll let those facts be presented to us and then we’ll make a decision on what the right course of action is,” Ambrosie said.

“It’s way too soon to reach any conclusions or to pass any judgments. In fact, in Canada, we use due process as a principle of a good society. You want to have good due process. Once we know and have the facts as revealed by the investigation, we’ll make the appropriate judgment.”

The plaintiff is seeking $295,603 from the Argonauts and $50,000 from Kelly. She claims the Argos breached the CFL’s violence against women policy by not submitting a critical incident report to the league’s head office.

The CFL has attempted to position itself as a leader in violence against women during Ambrosie’s tenure as commissioner. He reiterated the league’s commitment to the issue despite the latest allegations.

“We regularly say, and I think I’m proud to say and we’re genuine to say this, we’re not perfect and there’s always things to learn and to grow. But this is an area that we have been very serious about,” the commissioner acknowledged, crediting the league’s partners for the development of a strategy to address such incidents.

“(Our) responsibility is to everyone, to our existing employees, to all of our teams to make sure that we do the best we can to continue to make our environment a great place to work and a safe place to work for all people. Those are the things that cause me the reason to feel stress; my responsibility and our collective responsibility to make sure that this is a great place to work in.”

The commissioner has the power to enact discipline in the CFL, which he has wielded to enforce the league’s gender-based violence policy in the past. Players like Jerome Messam and Justin Cox, among others, have been blackballed while facing criminal charges. In 2021, the league refused to register a contract for former Most Outstanding Rookie Nate Holley with Toronto after he faced accusations on social media that were never brought before either criminal or civil court.

3DownNation has requested a copy of the detailed gender-based violence policy. Ambrosie would not say what forms of punishment could be on the table if Kelly is found to have violated that policy.

“I’m not going to speculate on what the outcome of this will be,” the commissioner said. “It’s not fair to the process, it’s not fair to the investigation. You have to let those things happen first and then you pass judgment.”

The allegations against the Argos and Kelly have not been proven in court. The team provided the following statement on behalf of themselves and the quarterback.

“The club is aware of a legal claim made by a former employee against the team and Mr. Kelly. The organization will not comment on private personnel matters or ongoing litigation but is steadfast in its commitment to providing a safe and inclusive work environment.”

Kelly joined the Argos for the 2022 season and came off the bench to lead the team to victory in the 109th Grey Cup. He took over the starting job this past year and was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player, helping the team to a record 16-win regular season.

The Buffalo, N.Y. native signed a three-year contract extension with the Argonauts last August, which was recently restructured for him to earn $585,000 in hard money, including $100,000 in marketing cash, for the 2024 season.

With one of the league’s biggest stars at the centre of the lawsuit, Ambrosie would provide no timeline for the results of the investigation, saying it will be “done when it’s done right.” To that end, he stressed the need for patience as the process plays out.

“It is early days and we’ll let the investigation proceed as it will proceed being handled by an external, experienced party,” the commissioner said. “We’ll have to deal with the outcome of that investigation but that’s down the road. For now, the most important thing is that we have a proper independent investigation done.”

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that the plaintiff was seeking $85,714 from the Argonauts. TSN’s Rick Westhead has since acknowledged that number as an error in his original report and the story has been updated to reflect the correct amount.