Georges Laraque has adapted nicely to life after professional hockey. The former NHL enforcer concluded his NHL career with the Canadiens during the 2009-2010 season and immediately threw himself into community action. At the time his native Haiti was in tatters due to the earthquake which battered the country and he launched a campaign to build a new hospital – something he succeeded in doing.
As a vegan, Laraque advocated for animal rights. He was drafted by the Federal Green Party and became deputy leader. The Mira Foundation, which provides guide dogs to the visually impaired signed him up as a spokesperson. Besides becoming a regular interview on sports talk shows, he also took up acting and had roles in CBC’s Battle of the Blades, Haiti Untold, the motion picture Goon and the Super Channel comedy series Tiny Plastic Men. Filmed in Edmonton, where he spends half the year to be with his children, the sitcoms focuses on a company that makes everything from video to board games and the bizarre people who walk through their doors. Laraque portrays a gay football player named Gaston Laboeuf. “It is my way to speak out against homophobia,” he told me.
Laraque’s latest feat is a professional hockey comeback. He has signed a contract with Fana IHK of the Norwegian Second Division. He has been training for a month and must report for duty March 1. “I will be there for the final two games of their regular season and then the playoffs,” he says. “The GM called and asked. I am a man of challenges. I like new things. And there is no fighting allowed there.”
When Laraque was released by the Canadiens he still had hopes of being picked up by another team. But in 2010 his back had given out and he formally retired. “After I retired my herniated disc gradually got reabsorbed in my system and I was able to skate, run marathons and take a pounding,” he says. “I do not know how it will feel in Norway. Sure there is no fighting, but it is still physical play and I am pretty sure that since I played in the NHL I might be a target.”
The latest cause to garner Laraque’s attention is the Shield of Athena and its Say No to Violence against Women Campaign. He was on hand February 3 at the Cinémas Guzzo Marché Central location where he was introduced along with former Hab Chris Nilan and former Alouette Bruno Heppell as a spokesman for the campaign. English and French videos, produced by Co-Pilot Productions and Global TV Quebec, will be shown on all Guzzo screens. They show Laraque, Nilan and Heppell outfitted in white t-shirts and serious looks on their faces. With some catchy music, we first see Heppell on the screen, then the palm of Laraque’s hand and the word “Never” written with a felt pen. Next comes Nilan’s hand and the word “Ever,” inscribed followed by Heppell again who declares: “Never ever hit a woman!” Nilan then declares: “Just say no,” We then hear the trio conclude “…to violence against women!”
“Athletes are regarded as role models for young people,” commented Melpa Kamateros, the executive director of the Shield of Athena Family Services (SOAFS). “What they say does make a difference. It is also an extension of including more men in such campaigns as violence against women is everybody’s business.”
|Left to right: Chris Nilan, Melpa Kamateros, Nadia Saputo, Vince Guzzo and Georges Laraque.|
Nilan, who moved to Montreal full-time a few years ago and hosts his own early afternoon talk show on TSN 690, feels very strongly about the cause. “There is no place for conjugal violence in our society and I have zero tolerance for anyone who is violent against their partner,” he said. “I came up with the slogan ‘Never Ever,’ because that is how I feel about this issue. I think when an athlete talks, people listen. People who chose to lay their hands on women and children have no place in our society.”
Added Laraque: “When I see that figure of 17,000, I find it totally unacceptable. A real man should respect women.”
Heppell confided that he has a sister who was a victim of conjugal violence, so the issue is really close to home. “This year’s case of conjugal violence in the NFL shows us the severity of this problem and that it touches us all,” he says. “We have all come in contact with a victim in some way or another in our lives and so we do not need to be afraid to talk about it. We need to take action.”
Campaign supporter Nadia Saputo thanked Vince Guzzo for stepping forward to show the public service announcements. The highly successful movie theatre mogul believes he has a captive audience. He hopes that the videos will have an impact on the young people in the audience in particular. “It is at the youngest age possible that we need to show our youth that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable and its during their first dates that respect for girls must be established,
Kamateros said there are 17,000 cases of conjugal violence each year in Quebec. Founded in 1991, the Shield of Athena Family Services is a non-profit community organization with a network of services that includes Montreal and Laval offices, an emergency shelter (Athena’s house), and a community outreach department. Services and information are available in up to 17 different languages.
The Laval Police were represented by Lieutenant Ana Isabel Rodriques.
For information about Shield of Athena, call 514-274-8117 or 450-688-7584 or log on to www.shieldofathena.com.