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CFL suspends Argos quarterback Kelly for minimum of nine games

TORONTO — The CFL suspended Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly for at least nine regular-season games Tuesday following its investigation into a lawsuit filed by a former strength-and-conditioning coach against both the player and club.
Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly passes the ball against the Montreal Alouettes during first half CFL Eastern Conference final football action in Toronto on Saturday, Nov.11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — The CFL suspended Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly for at least nine regular-season games Tuesday following its investigation into a lawsuit filed by a former strength-and-conditioning coach against both the player and club.

According to the CFL, Kelly is also suspended for Toronto's two pre-season games for violating its gender-based violence policy. Kelly must undergo confidential assessments by an independent expert and attend mandatory counselling sessions conducted by a gender-based violence expert.

Both the counselling sessions and assessments must be satisfactorily completed before the CFL will consider Kelly’s reinstatement, the league added in a statement. Otherwise, it reserves the right to modify his discipline.

Kelly, 30, was the CFL's outstanding player last season after leading Toronto to a league-best and franchise-record 16-2 record. But the Argos' season ended with a 38-17 home loss to eventual Grey Cup-champion Montreal in the East Division final.

Kelly's agent, Chris Lambiris, expressed surprise at the suspension and said that he and his client would explore the appeal process.

"We will continue to do more fact-finding surrounding the decision before making a more in-depth statement," Lambiris said.

There was no announcement regarding any penalties or sanctions against the Argos. But the league added their conduct in this matter, as laid out by the investigators, will be reviewed with the club.

"The club will respectfully abide  by the League's decision," the Argos said in a statement. "The Toronto Argonauts and MLSE share the CFL's commitment to providing healthy and positive work environments."

The CFL Players' Association was not immediately available for comment.

The CFL's decision to launch its investigation came after the complainant filed a statement of claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, alleging a pattern of harassment by Kelly, beginning with unwanted romantic advances and escalating into instances of threatening language.

The coach said the Argos did not act when told of Kelly's behaviour and claims assistant general manager John Murphy said she "opened a can of worms that didn't need to be opened."

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the league's investigation revealed definite violations of its gender-based violence policy.

"It was important that we performed our due diligence to properly review this matter from all points of view," Ambrosie said in a statement. "That in-depth investigation found that Mr. Kelly unequivocally violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy.

"Mr. Kelly’s suspension is the direct result of his behaviour. The addition of mandatory counselling focuses on his need for self-reflection and understanding of his actions. He must take full advantage of this."

The complainant said she was informed in January her contract with the club would not be renewed. The complainant had joined the franchise in 2018 and said her contract had previously been continually renewed.

The complainant is seeking $80,000 from Kelly and a total of $85,714 from the Argos. The Canadian Press does not publish the names of alleged victims of harassment or sexual assault unless granted permission.

TSN also reported the complainant is also seeking $10,000 worth of punitive damages.

The broadcaster also said Kelly recently filed his defence in the lawsuit and denied making “any romantic or sexual overtures” towards the plaintiff, including workplace sexual harassment. 

Kelly stated the complainant "advanced these spurious claims against him purely to draw the attention of the media to what was otherwise a very routine termination situation.”

In their defence filing, the Argos claimed they had “no knowledge” of any behaviour from Kelly that violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy or breached the Ontario Human Rights Code. The team also claimed its conduct with the plaintiff was “all times fair, reasonable, lawful and undertaken in good faith.”

Kelly, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., signed a three-year, $1.85-million extension with Toronto last season that made him the league's highest-paid player. This off-season, though, Kelly restructured his contract with the team.

The CFLs announcement comes with CFL rookie camps slated to open Wednesday. It's unclear if Kelly will be in attendance at the Argos' camp, which is being held at the University of Guelph.

With Kelly starting 16 of Toronto's 18-regular-season games in 2023, first-year backups Cameron Dukes and Bryan Scott both played sparingly. Dukes made two starts, completing 63-of-96 passes for 760 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing 35 times for 126 yards and eight TDs.

Scott didn't complete any of the four passes he attempted last season.

The CFL's suspension of Kelly comes roughly two weeks after it handed retired defensive lineman Shawn Lemon an indefinite ban for betting on league games in 2021, including one he played in.

Defensive back Chris Edwards, then of the Argos, was suspended for six games following the '21 season for his role in an altercation with a fan following the East Division final. But it was reduced to three games.

Following last season, Edwards, then with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, received a three-game suspension for striking opponents and inciting a non-football altercation during the East Division semifinal. Edwards retired in February.

In 2022, Saskatchewan defensive lineman Garrett Marino received a four-game ban from three separate suspensions following his actions in a game versus the Ottawa Redblacks. The penalty was the league's most severe total discipline ever implemented for in-game behaviour during one contest.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2024.

The Canadian Press