A recent judgment for a Greater Victoria man who plead guilty to stabbing and killing a beloved overdose prevention peer worker in Vancouver in 2020, was a victim too.
“Quite frankly, the entire case for both the deceased and the accused are heartbreaking,” Provincial Court Judge Ellen Gordon said to an emotional courtroom back in September of 2021.
The provincial court ruling says an assault during team “hazing” in the Mount Doug football program was a turning point, leading to a downward spiral in Max Hayes’ life.
Me-Kon Hayes is Max’s mom. She adopted him out of foster care when he was almost two years old.
“We were very close from the very beginning. He was always quiet and cautious, and thoughtful,” said Me-Kon. “He was very active, very athletic. It was in elementary school where he was introduced to and fell in love with football.”
In 2011, at the age of 15, Max joined the Mount Doug Rams Football Team. But instead of playing the game of his dreams, Me-Kon says he was assaulted by fellow team members during ‘hazing’, an event that completely changed the trajectory of his life.
“It started with disrespectful language, which had never been. Like I said he’d always been a sweet family-oriented boy,” said Me-Kon. “He started spending more and more time away from home, getting into trouble.”
Max didn’t immediately tell his mother what had happened during the hazing, but his behaviour changed.
He suddenly stopped being the sweet considerate young man, stopped playing football and going to school. Even more concerning, he started using hard drugs and committing crimes.
“He could not go home and tell his mom what happened or felt he could not,” said Judge Gordon. “By the age of 15, he was putting a needle with heroin in his arm to take the pain away. Most 15-year-olds are still living the life that his mother tried to give him which is in a loving and welcoming cocoon, but because of his victimization, he could not accept that and he began to live on the streets.”
For Me-Kon and Max, the next tragedy was the lack of mental health and addictions treatment services available to help the struggling boy.
“It’s very frustrating. We were trying every avenue possible to get him back. We just hit roadblocks at every opportunity,” said Me-Kon.
Then came yet another tragedy.
On July 27, 2020, Max got into a fight with a peer worker, Thomus Donaghy, in Vancouver over money for drugs that was owed between the two. The fight ended when Max stabbed and killed Thomus.
Max plead guilty to manslaughter, showed deep remorse, and pledged to remain sober for the rest of his life.
In her sentencing report, Provincial Court Judge Ellen Gordon pointed to a connection between the killing and Hayes’ “hazing” assault at Mount Doug, which triggered his fatal response.
“Mr. Donaghy grabbed Mr. Hayes’ shirt and ripped it off. What is significant is in the process of doing that, he lifted it over Mr. Hayes’ head,” said Judge Gordon.
It’s the exact same action that happened when Max was previously assaulted at Mount Doug.
“In what is, I do not know, euphemistically called hazing, that essentially is rape, the coach of the football team permitted this young man to be sexually assaulted by older teammates,” said Judge Gordon.
“His shirt was pulled over his head, which is why it is not surprising that when the deceased pulled Mr. Hayes’ shirt over his head, Mr. Hayes had the incredible reaction that he did.”
Max was sentenced to 18 months in jail for manslaughter on top of the 597 days he had already served, plus two years probation.
His lawyer applauds what she calls a trauma-informed judgment.
“I think as Judge Gordon said in one of our conferences, ‘Is he starting with both his hands tied behind his back?’ I was like mhm,” said Marie Morrison, Max’s defence lawyer. “And a lot of people are. And that has to be considered otherwise the justice system doesn’t make sense.”
Greater Victoria School Board representatives confirm they are aware of the allegations made in court and an investigation is underway.
This is not the first allegation of hazing, bullying, and abuse off the field at Mount Doug.
In 2017, Mount Doug briefly suspended the team’s spring season after a hazing incident where the team captain and others poured urine on another team member’s equipment.
So far, Max hasn’t pursued charges with Saanich Police. The sexual assault allegations cited in the court judgment have not been tested in court.