Broncos families support hockey assistance program after criticism

Several families affected by the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash are throwing their support behind a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League assistance program that's facing criticism.

Darrin Duell, a former board member with the hockey team and the chairman of the HumboldtStrong Community Foundation, has objected to some aspects of the program that was created by the league's president in the days after the tragedy.

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"We were reeling, we had a lot going on and I just felt like the timing was very inappropriate," Duell said Monday in an interview with The Canadian Press. "There was no consultation with the Humboldt Broncos."

The program was announced by SJHL president Bill Chow and a representative of the Federated Co-operatives on April 9, 2018, three days after the Broncos bus collided with a semi truck at a Saskatchewan intersection. Sixteen people were killed and 13 injured.

It includes mental health support for anyone in the league affected by the crash, a concussion protocol that deals with mental health and possible scholarships for players wishing to go into a mental health-related field.

Chow said he stands by the decision to set up the program despite Duell's criticism.

"It's somebody's opinion and I think, at the end of the day, the program has helped a lot of people," Chow said.

The program has raised just over $2.1 million in the past year. Chow said it has paid out almost $220,000, which includes a total of $120,000 to the Canadian Junior Hockey League for a national concussion program and about $76,000 for individual counselling.

He said counselling payments could continue for years because no one knows when the need will stop — or start — for some people.

"If I'm a bad guy for creating a mental health program and a concussion program for junior hockey players across Canada, then I guess I'm a bad guy," added Chow.

Duell said he doesn't have a problem with Chow or the intent of the fund, but he said he's concerned about transparency in how the money is being spent.

Two families who lost their sons and another whose son was injured in the crash said they support Chow and the program.

"I have no problem with the SJHL setting up the fund," said Chris Joseph, a former NHL player from St. Albert, Alta., whose son Jaxon died.

Joseph said it seems like an unfair attack on the SJHL president.

"All my dealings with Bill Chow have been upfront and honest," said Joseph.

Tom and Michelle Straschnitzki of Airdrie, Alta., whose son Ryan was paralyzed in the crash, said they've had nothing but positive dealings with Chow.

"Why attack him after the one-year anniversary out of the blue?" said Tom Straschnitzki. "The Bill Chow we know was after the accident, and if we talked to him and asked him for something he'd say, 'Sure, no problem. Here you go.'"

The Boulet family agreed, noting they have been supported financially, emotionally and physically by the fund and Chow.

"This fund was created while our family was in crisis, but there was never a pretence that monies directed to this fund would go to the families," said a statement from Toby and Bernadine Boulet of Lethbridge, Alta., whose son Logan was killed in the crash, and their daughter Mariko.

"To say otherwise is in our opinion both purposeful and hurtful to Mr. Bill Chow and the Boulet family."

In an interview, Toby Boulet said he recently spoke to a representative from the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and was told it had gone to the SJHL to offer money for an assistance program in the days after the crash.

"They worked together," said Boulet. "They wanted to have sustainability and stewardship for many, many, many years."

Chow said he's saddened by criticism of the fund.

"The last thing I want to see is more pain and anguish for the 29 families," he said. "I don't get it."

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