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Hockey Ottawa Senators' Uber driver says online video 'brought great shame to my family’

Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene during a team practice in Ottawa on Nov. 6, 2018. An Uber driver who posted footage of Ottawa Senators players disparaging one of their coaches and their team's performance says he is sorry for sharing the video.

Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

An Uber driver who posted footage of Ottawa Senators players disparaging one of their coaches and their team’s performance says he is sorry for sharing the video and has destroyed a second, unpublished clip.

James Sparklin, an Arizona father of six, told the Canadian Press he has not spoken to the players — Matt Duchene, Chris Wideman, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo and Alex Formenton — featured in the footage he posted on YouTube, but received a thanks from a member of the team’s administration, when he reached out to offer apologies.

“I called the team ... because I wanted to make sure they understood that I have destroyed the other tape. It will never ever see the light of day,” he said, describing that video as showing the players entering his van and having a preride discussion about the number of passengers. “I am extremely sorry for what happened and it is not right ... I never meant harm on any of the players involved, the coaching staff involved, the owner involved, the town that was involved ... I wasn’t thinking at all.”

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An Ottawa Senators spokesperson refuted Sparklin’s claim that he apologized, saying, “Based on our review, we have no reason to believe that any such conversation took place.”

Sparklin’s remorse comes more than a week after he admitted he posted on YouTube footage of Senators players in his vehicle ridiculing their assistant coach Martin Raymond, saying they haven’t been paying attention in meetings and complaining the team has not altered its penalty-kill techniques.

Sparklin said he “wasn’t in the best state of mind” when he put the footage online, but was hoping to show another driver how he handled seven passengers — an issue for Sparklin because he said Uber’s XL offering for large groups, which the Senators used, is for six or fewer passengers. His van can hold seven passengers, but he said he has long been afraid he wouldn’t be covered under his insurance if he carried more than six guests.

Sparklin said the second video shows him discussing the issue with the player, but said he ultimately gave them a lift because he was concerned his driver rating would be impacted if the Senators followed through on a remark they made about cancelling the ride.

That video never made it online, but the footage of their ride did, especially when Sparklin tweeted it to Postmedia, which owns the Ottawa Citizen and later published it on its website.

“I didn’t realize that I sent it to a major news outlet,” Sparklin said.

The Senators have since sent a legal notice to Postmedia to demand the footage’s removal on grounds it violates provincial privacy laws, but the company has refused, arguing that the video is in the public interest and is not violating privacy legislation.

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Sparklin took the video off YouTube when Uber reached out to him requesting it be removed, saying it violated the company’s terms of service.

“I thought it was over and done with,” Sparklin said.

He was wrong. By then, the video was being shared across the globe.

Sparklin, who said he has driven football, basketball and baseball players before but never heard them disparage their team, said he didn’t know the passengers were professional hockey players until they started discussing the sport and he asked who they played for.

Sparklin said the players should have known they were on camera because of the presence of a passenger-facing screen displaying camera’s view. He said previous passengers have noticed and asked about it.

Sparklin said the camera was installed in his van long ago as a safety measure that came in handy weeks prior to the Senators incident, when a another motorist had a heart attack and lost control of his vehicle, sideswiping Sparklin’s van and causing US$11,000 of damage.

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“I was having a hard time sleeping before I picked up the players since my accident. It keeps flashbacking and reoccuring,” he said. “The stress of this put me in bad shape.”

Then, following the Senators incident, Uber swiftly and permanently deactivated his driver account.

“They tried to keep me on because I am a high-rated driver, but the story got too big and they had a perfect opportunity to make an example and let the other drivers know there are rules,” Sparklin said.

Uber told the Canadian Press that Sparklin was permanently removed from driving for the company, but didn’t confirm it had been trying to keep him on.

Sparklin said his days of driving for Uber are over because of the incident, as well as the fact that he found it difficult to make money driving for the company.

“I never made a single penny off this video. Not one cent,” he said. “I lost a lot — my income, driving Uber, my reputation. It has brought great shame to my family.”

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