Once upon a time, about 10 years ago or so, I was walking through Yaletown when I saw Francesco Aquilini come wheeling out of a club, looking somewhat dishevelled and shouting some woman’s name as she got into a waiting Lamborghini.
Aquilini ran to the car, got down in a catcher’s stance at the driver’s door, and started pleading with the occupants. I couldn’t really make out what was being said. I didn’t want to.
But from that moment on, I figured there would be a day like yesterday for the Canucks chairman.
That there would be an allegation that would require comment, maybe even intervention, from Gary Bettman and the NHL head office.
Yesterday, the story broke that Tali’ah Aquilini has taken her ex-husband to court over financial support for their children’s ongoing post-secondary education.
Francesco wants to know details of what he’s paying for; alas their three children don’t want to reveal details because they don’t want any association with their father, experiencing “fear and anxiety” that Francesco might try to contact them, according to a lawyer representing Tali’ah, as reported by The Vancouver Sun and CBC.
The children, all in their 20s, allege in sworn affidavits that their father was physically and psychologically abusive, that he once threw a five-year-old across the room, punched a child in the stomach, and beat a child as they slept.
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Francesco’s attorney denied the allegations, calling them false. A statement said the Canucks chairman was “outraged” by the allegations.
The NHL says it has contacted Aquilini and his lawyers and will respond if necessary as events unfold.
This is a big test for Bettman and the NHL.
Do they actually have the courage to punish an owner after the Chicago Blackhawks scandal last year? The league told us it would be more vigilant and hold its members to a higher standard.
Shouldn’t governors be held to the highest standard of them all? Aren’t they there to set the example? Provide the leadership?
Bettman’s masterful trick as commissioner is that he gets owners to view him as the boss, even if he serves at their pleasure.
So then be the boss, Gary.
Show us that you are committed to good governance and good governors and that the NHL takes accusations of abuse seriously.
Because over 15 years covering this team, my conclusion is that Francesco and the Aquilinis are in the NHL for the wrong reasons. They are not community-minded people stewarding a community asset.
The family itself is in it for the money, and Francesco is in it so he can rub elbows with celebrities. The type of perks you don’t get from land development or berry farms.
I was once told he insisted on a dinner with a Hollywood star as the final condition of a deal with a concert promoter looking to re-up at Rogers Arena. We all saw the fawning letter he wrote to Tom Brady in 2015, desperate to cozy up to the quarterback GOAT and Gisele.
I have long said that Francesco wants the prestige and clout of being a sports franchise owner, without the accountability to Canucks fans, employees, and the public.
The Aquilinis made a tremendous call buying this team when they did and will reap several times over their investment in a sale.
But Francesco has to go.
The City of Vancouver, and the Province of British Columbia, deserve so much better.