TSN panellist, ex-GM Jim Barker believes CFL staffers should be fined for criticizing Argos’ handling of Chad Kelly

Photo courtesy: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

TSN panellist and former CFL general manager Jim Barker believes the league should fine staffers who criticized the Toronto Argonauts for allowing Chad Kelly to be on the field during their recent rookie camp.

“I’ve been in this league for a long time and I got fined for saying something about the schedule one year. Somebody at the league office blasted the Argos for having him on the field publicly, saying how outrageous it was. If she’s not fined, how can you say there’s equity in this league?” Barker told The Rod Pedersen Show on Friday.

“If a team person would say something like that to the league office, you’re talking about a major fine.”

Kristina Costabile, the CFL’s senior manager of web and digital content, and Rhéanne Marcoux, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ senior director of branding, both took to social media last week to criticize the Argonauts for allowing their suspended quarterback to be at rookie camp. Toronto has since released a statement indicating Kelly is no longer allowed to participate in team activities.

The controversy came after a three-month-long independent investigation found what commissioner Randy Ambrosie called “unequivocal evidence” that Kelly, the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy. He was slapped with a minimum nine-game suspension and needs to attend mandatory counselling sessions conducted by a gender-based violence expert and undergo assessments by an independent evaluator in order to be reinstated.

Barker, who worked as a senior advisor for the Argonauts in 2022 when the alleged harassment began, has a previous history with civil litigation. In 2012, he was sued for wrongful dismissal by a former team athletic therapist after allegedly calling all women “b****es” and stating he wouldn’t be comfortable employing a female head therapist. The allegations were never proven in court and the case was settled before a statement of defence was issued.

The 67-year-old native of Pasadena, Calif. believes Toronto was obligated to allow Kelly to remain with the team under the terms of the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement unless they exercised their right to suspend him as a team.

“They did an independent investigation themselves and came out in support of Chad Kelly. They said that they found nothing, I believe, and that had to do also with the suit against them,” he said. “They did their own thing, so I’m guessing that they didn’t feel like what happened warranted him being suspended by the team.”

The existence or results of an internal investigation by the Argonauts have not been previously reported. In their own statement of defence, the team claimed “no knowledge” of any behaviour from Kelly that violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy or breached the Ontario Human Rights Code. General manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons has since taken responsibility for his team’s alleged mishandling of the harassment claims.

According to the league’s investigation, three of the six core claims made in the original lawsuit, which was filed with the Ontario Superior Court on Wednesday, Feb. 21, were corroborated. Based on text message records, investigators concluded that Kelly made persistent advances on the plaintiff and, through eye-witness accounts, they verified that an aggressive confrontation occurred between the two on the morning of Nov. 6, which culminated in the quarterback yelling derogatory remarks at her later that same day.

None of the allegations contained in the plaintiff’s lawsuit against Kelly or the Argonauts have been tested in court.

Kelly recently filed his defence in the lawsuit and denied making “any romantic or sexual overtures” towards the plaintiff, including workplace sexual harassment. He stated she “advanced these spurious claims against him purely to draw the attention of the media to what was otherwise a very routine termination situation.”