(Photo via The Canuck Way)
Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini is facing severe allegations of child abuse. The accusations were levelled against Aquilini by his four estranged children in affidavits submitted to British Columbia Supreme Court. Each of the four children claims that their father physically and psychologically abused them when they were younger. A lawyer representing Tali’ah Aquilini, the owner’s ex-wife and mother of the four children, read the affidavits during last week’s hearing concerning whether Francesco Aquilini is required to continue paying child support and college tuition for three of the children (the other is an adult and no longer needs financial support). Tali’ah filed an application requesting that the three children who are still attending college remain “children of the marriage,” in order to compel Francesco to persist in making these payments. The couple divorced and reached a settlement in 2013.
One of the affidavits described a specifically horrifying situation in which Francesco allegedly became enraged with the children for being too loud. “The respondent [Francesco Aquilini] then forced all of us upstairs into our individual rooms, went to each room to physically abuse each child. I saw the respondent throw another child – at that time five years old – across the room . . . I locked myself in my bathroom. The respondent broke the lock and was throwing his body at the door to come in and beat me. I called the claimant [Tali’ah Aquilini] and asked her to hurry home, stating I was scared the respondent would kill me, and I was worried that he had already killed my younger siblings.”
Another notably disturbing excerpt recounted Francesco beating one of the children while they were sleeping, and continuing to assault them after they woke up. A third allegation asserts that he punched a child in the stomach. Francesco’s attorney, Ken McEwan, did not address the allegations in court, except to note that they are “irrelevant” to the case at hand. Aquilini later denied the claims in a statement issued by his public relations representative. The statement read, in part, “Francesco Aquilini categorically denies, and is outraged, by the accusation made by his ex-wife Taliah in family court that he has ever abused the children.”
The dispute itself stems from the Aquilini children requesting that information about their college education be redacted and withheld from their father and his lawyer. The eldest Aquilini sister’s affidavit went as far to say, “I would like to formally state that myself and my siblings . . . wish to have no contact with you, nor would we like you to have access to any of our contact, medical information, or other information regarding our lives.” The possibility of their father contacting them supposedly provoked “fear and anxiety” within the children.
According to Tali’ah’s attorney, Claire Hunter, Francesco provided child support until September 2021. A CBC report states that both parties agree that he has paid his obligated support up until August 2022, though. Francesco’s statement averred that he “has met and will continue to meet any child support obligations required by the law, but he has concerns about the veracity of the information provided in support of financial demands.” McEwan reportedly told the court that his client is seeking more information about the children’s grades and attendance, in addition to justification for airline flights and a $48,000 computer.
The NHL is taking a cautious approach. A spokesperson for the league released the following statement: “We are aware of the allegations that have been made in the Family Court proceeding in Vancouver and have been in touch with Mr. Aquilini and his lawyers regarding same. Clearly, the parties have been involved in a most contentious divorce. Mr. Aquilini has advised us that he categorically denies the allegations. We plan to continue to monitor the situation and, if necessary, will respond as we learn more as events unfold.”
The conduct of pro sports franchise owners has been placed under a microscope in recent months, and has been covered in a number of pieces by our UB Law Sports Forum authors. Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver just recently decided to sell the Suns, after incurring a one-year ban and $10 million fine for a variety of racist, misogynistic, and hostile incidents. Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder is in perpetual hot water as a result of his personal conduct. Jerry Jones has had his fair share of issues, as well.  While this does not diminish the allegations against Aquilini, these owners’ personal conduct problems arose primarily within the workplace. The manner in which the NHL deals with this case may establish an important precedent with regards to non-organizational offenses.
3L at University at Buffalo School of Law; BSELS Co-Vice President
MBA in Marketing;
In pursuit of a career at the intersection of sports law and sports business, specifically in professional hockey.