A recent ruling by Revenue Canada that could force junior hockey teams to be more forthcoming about their financial practices is no concern to the Borderland Thunder.
In fact, Thunder president Shawn Jourdain said the case involving the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, where Nipawin Hawks player Jeff Affleck was categorized as an employee because of income garnered while with the team, would help level the playing field in junior hockey across the country.
“It would even it out a lot,” Jourdain said in response to the possibility that Revenue Canada may extend its review of SJHL teams nation-wide to include the SIJHL and all other junior leagues.
“It’s no problem here. We don’t pay any of our players,” he noted. “The kids love to be here. When they come, they know they’re going to be treated first-class when it comes to their billets, their coaches, and the team staff.”
Affleck was injured last season and applied for employment insurance after being unable to work this past summer.
His EI claim was denied, but was passed to another department of Revenue Canada, where he was ruled to be an employee of the Hawks.
The federal department has now tagged two-thirds of SJHL teams for EI and Canada Pension Plan back payments, and taxed individual players for their combined incomes from hockey, outside jobs, and money given to billets.
The situation has sparked talk of Revenue Canada auditing all junior teams to uncover which organizations are paying their players, which goes against regulations.
“I’ve heard through the grapevine that teams in other leagues are paying their players,” remarked Jourdain, who wouldn’t comment on whether he thought other SIJHL teams were doing so.
But league president Jerry Blazino, who sent information on the ruling to all SIJHL franchises, said it’s possible the warning of what is to come could have some team executives feeling uneasy.
“It’s a wake-up call,” Blazino said. “I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in the SIJHL. It’s just an indication that if you don’t want to play by the rules, then things can happen.”
The SIJHL currently doesn’t have a system in place for penalizing any team discovered to be paying its players.
“There’s nothing to govern that because we agreed it was something that would be self-policed,” noted Blazino, who added the reasoning behind the plan was that SIJHL teams weren’t well-heeled enough to be throwing money at players to join their organizations.
“It may be a necessity to bring in [payment regulations] in the future, though,” he added.
Blazino also sees the ruling as having a potentially enormous impact on lower-level junior players now and down the road.
“This is the beginning of everything,” said Blazino, who is worried the branding of players at the junior ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ levels as professional employees of their teams will lead to them being ineligible for U.S. college scholarships, such as is the case for major junior players in Canada.
“This could affect all minor sports, not just hockey,” he added. “Are the people who compete in amateur skiing and get expense money being taxed when the season is over?
“This is going to be a long, drawn-out battle in Saskatchewan that other sports are going to be drawn into,” Blazino warned.