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Lawyer seeks to seal Canucks owner’s divorce file

Vancouver Canucks' owner Francesco Aquilini speaks on his mobile phone as general manager Mike Gillis, not pictured, speaks to reporters down the hallway in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday April 25, 2011. Vancouver and the Chicago Blackhawks play game 7 of a Western Conference quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff series Tuesday.


Disclosure of financial documents in Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini's divorce proceedings could significantly damage the city's hockey team, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge has heard.

George Macintosh, a lawyer for Mr. Aquilini, told Justice Nathan Smith on Thursday that releasing details of his client's finances in his divorce from estranged wife Taliah could threaten the Canucks brand, fan loyalty and relationships with sponsors.

The statement came at the beginning of a two-day hearing in which Mr. Aquilini is seeking to seal the court file and limit contents such as reasons for judgment, court orders and affidavits to the parties and their counsel.

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Mr. Macintosh said determining his client's worth is more than merely a matter of disclosing tax and income documents; it would entail dissection of the many businesses he operates with his prominent family. Such a public disclosure would put their businesses at significant risk, the lawyer said.

Mr. Aquilini was granted an interim order sealing access to his financial records in June. As well, members of his family were granted intervenor status due to shared business interests.

The issue of the Canucks arises because of the recent divorce case of Frank McCourt, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. During Mr. McCourt's public battle with wife Jamie, the baseball team ended up in bankruptcy court last summer. In late March, it was sold for $2-billion (U.S.) in an auction.

In making his argument on Thursday, Mr. Macintosh cited an affidavit by Canucks chief operating officer Victor de Bonis.

"On the risk of harm to the Canucks brand, he points out the key to a successful sports franchise is the loyalty of its fans," Mr. Macintosh said.

"The intensity of the fan loyalty is hugely important to the business of the franchise. It is also very volatile and can be easily damaged. One way in which fan loyalty is damaged is through perceptions of the financial health of the team."

In response, Judge Smith quipped: "Is Mr. de Bonis willing to depose that there is any of this potential damage to the Canucks brand or fan loyalty that couldn't be overcome with the Stanley Cup?"

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"He can't go that far," Mr. Macintosh replied with a chuckle.

In addition to the possible threat to the team, Mr. Aquilini's finances are inextricably interwoven with his family's, and his family deserves non-party privacy, Mr. Macintosh said. The billionaire Aquilini family runs businesses including real estate holdings and developments, and farming.

Shirley Paterson, a lawyer for Mr. Aquilini's children, added that public allegations during the proceedings could harm them emotionally. The damage would be "substantially more intense" due to media coverage, she said, adding at least one child has already been approached about the divorce since the media began reporting on it.

Robin McFee, a lawyer for Ms. Aquilini, said the family should not be granted intervenor status in a private law proceeding due to "speculative potential harm." He said the family cannot prove it has a direct interest or that it has a different perspective on the sealing order issue – requirements for such status.

The court is expected to hear submissions from Ms. Aquilini's lawyers on Friday.., when the hearing will conclude.

Neither Francesco nor Taliah Aquilini appeared in court Thursday.

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The couple married in 1994 and separated in January, 2011, citing irreconcilable differences.

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