Michel Croteau is an outraged hockey dad who just won't quit.
From a small village best known for peat-moss bogs and crab fishing, the New Brunswicker is waging a protracted battle against minor hockey's highest powers all in the name of his teenaged son, Steven, who was denied a most-valuable-player award more than three years ago.
Since then, the MVP snub has prompted a failed lawsuit, a rejected human-rights complaint and a Federal Court case that was rejected only two weeks ago -- but Mr. Croteau, 45, says he isn't done "making noise."
"Some people may think I'm a crazy nonsensical parent and I'm overzealous, but I feel okay with what I'm doing," he said.
After teaching himself how to use computers and the law, he has set up a website encouraging other hockey moms and dads to join his crusade. The idea is to get federal institutions to play a greater role in resolving disputes between hockey parents and hockey leagues.
It may seem a quixotic campaign, but in a country that is fanatical about the sport, Mr. Croteau has some followers. "I will not let go," he vowed yesterday in a phone interview from his home on Lamèque Island in the Acadian Pennisula. "It's based on values. It's not about a trophy."
Typically, angry hockey parents make headlines only after attacking coaches or referees, but Mr. Croteau has channelled his abundant rage into legal battles. He alleges that Hockey Canada, the sole governing body for amateur hockey, robbed his son of not merely a plaque but of fundamental human rights.
Seven years ago, Mr. Croteau said, he was disabled when a Dodge Ram pickup smashed into his office inside a fishing factory. Since then, he has devoted himself to being a father and to coaching hockey.
And he had a prodigy on his hands. In 2002, 16-year-old Steven Croteau scored 45 goals and 42 assists in 27 games to lead his AAA league. Mr. Croteau said that entire arenas used to chant his son's name in admiration of the pintsized 5-foot-5 marvel. "He was amazing. Everybody loved the boy, because of his intelligence of the game."
So when Steven won the best scorer award, but was passed over for MVP, it was a slap in the face to his father. "It's like they've kicked all the values of hard work and sacrifice that the little boy did," Mr. Croteau said. "It made no sense."
He responded by launching a $300,000 lawsuit. And that suit triggered an obscure Hockey Canada bylaw that was invoked to suspend Steven for the duration of legal proceedings.
At a pivotal time in his development, the teenager missed the next season and a chance to play on the provincial squad. While Steven was probably too small to have cracked the NHL, his father said he still likely missed out on some scholarships. Glory fades, and today Steven is a 19-year-old university law student who plays hockey in an adult league.
"For him it was extremely hard," Mr. Croteau said. "As parents we also have decisions -- people think it's wrong what I did, but it was a very hard decision I had to take."
Mr. Croteau said yesterday that his son was not available to speak directly to the media. But he said Steven has always respected the decision to continue the lawsuit, even if it kept him out of hockey. "He always tells me, 'Keep on going Dad,'" he said.
Besides, he argues, it was Hockey Canada that "punished the kid. I went through all these procedures and they pushed me to go to court."
In the midst of the suspension, Mr. Croteau came to believe that Hockey Canada was wrongly punishing the son for the sins of the father. He put that complaint in writing and sent it to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, saying it amounted to illegal discrimination against his son.
Last year, the commission tossed out the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. Mr. Croteau took the same complaint to the Federal Court of Canada.
On May 16, the court issued a written decision, also finding that Mr. Croteau was barking up the wrong tree. "Hockey Canada isn't a federal office, and its decision can't be controlled by this court," the decision said.
Still, avenues for redress remain. "He has a right to appeal," Jean-Sebastien Gallant, the lawyer representing Hockey Canada, said in an interview. But he insisted that Hockey Canada has always been within its rights to invoke its bylaw powers.
Mr. Gallant is also representing former prime minister Jean Chrétien at the Gomery commission, a fact that has not been missed by Mr. Croteau, who is representing himself. The disparity in legal representation has only enhanced his claim to be a hockey-dad-David battling a corporate Goliath.
On the same day the Federal Court rejected the Croteau complaint, it also rejected a similar one from a hockey mom in Guelph, Ont.
In an interview, Désanges Duguay said Hockey Canada wouldn't let her son play after the family raised complaints against the organization. She said she is taking her complaint to human-rights commissions and civil courts. She is one of several people who make regular postings on Mr. Croteau's website.
The New Brunswicker says he formed http://www.hockeycroteau.com to "denounce, inform and share about problems, injustice and discrimination behaviours done to minor age hockey players in Canada."
A clearing house for complaints by parents who find themselves on the outs with Hockey Canada, it gets scores of regular visitors. The site includes postings from the Canadian Hockey Parent Association, a start-up group that says it is seeking to wrest some control of the minor leagues back from Hockey Canada.
"It's a shame that our game has come to this, but we are telling people to sue in order to seek relief," the group's advisory director said in a recent posting. "The game certainly needs cleaning up and we plan to push forward with our own initiatives."
While there are varying perspectives on the site, visitors generally feel they would like to see better avenues of appeal within Hockey Canada, which they accuse of often acting arbitrarily.
Mr. Croteau remains Hockey Canada's most strident critic, routinely writing lengthy screeds against the organization.
"'Hockey Canada' receives big money by our governments, and meanwhile 'Hockey Canada' is not under any normally attainable Canadian jurisdiction and this they know," he writes.
". . . I always said that this case will only be resolved at the Supreme Court. . . and that's where it will be, either they like it, or not!"