For the first time, Hockey Canada has put together a picture of the discrimination taking place at rinks across this country.
In a report released Friday, the national hockey organization compiled data on incidents from each of its 13 member hockey organizations over the 2021-22 hockey season, the first in an annual series of such reports.
It comes in the wake of a new section Hockey Canada added to its rule book in August, which deals with discriminatory incidents in or around hockey.
Rule 11.4 from that new section specifically deals with players or team officials who engage in “verbal taunts, insults or intimidation based on discriminatory grounds.” Those grounds include sexual orientation or gender identity, race, religion, language or disabilities.
The report breaks down incidents in which referees have awarded a gross misconduct penalty for violation of Rule 11.4. It also covers incidents — on or off the ice — which may not have been spotted by a referee but were reported to one by someone else. Those were subject to further investigation.
Young males playing competitive hockey in under-18 divisions were the most frequent offenders when it came to on-ice discrimination last season. (Gross misconduct penalties are punished with ejection from the game in progress, at a minimum.)
The most common form of discrimination penalized by referees were slurs based on sexual orientation or gender identity — at 61 per cent of the 512 recorded incidents. Discrimination based on race followed that at 18 per cent.
While Ontario recorded the highest number of incidents at 152, that was actually slightly below the per-capita rate for the whole country, which sat at 0.1 per cent (one incident per 1,000 players in that year). Ontario’s per-capita rate for on-ice discrimination incidents was 0.09 per cent.
Leading the 13 hockey organizations in per-capita rate of discriminatory incidents was Hockey Eastern Ontario (HEO). Among its 23,009 players, there were 71 incidents for a rate of 0.31 per cent.
Director of operations Jeff Baker said Friday he believes that’s likely because HEO interprets Rule 11.4 more strictly than other organizations.
He said ahead of the season, HEO circulated a video among officials and players specifically dealing with how and when Rule 11.4 was to be called within the organization.
“They brought all of our officials in and trained them specifically on that rule,” he said. “I do know that our per-capita numbers are higher. However, we’re like 99.9 per cent sure that the rationale for us being higher is the fact that we’re calling it on a stricter basis than everybody else.”
One of the issues, he said, is that while Hockey Canada is very direct about what categories of abuse fall under Rule 11.4, organizations differ on exactly what terms — what words — fall into those categories.
“I had a gentleman call me one time who was a coach of an out-of-town team that was here for a tournament. One of his players had gotten one of these penalties and he said, ‘You know, they never call that where we’re from,’” said Baker.
“And he said, ‘You know, it would help if we had a list of words that we were not allowed to use.’”
Of the incidents that weren’t spotted by an official during a game and had to be investigated later, the same player profile held: the offenders were most often male, playing competitive hockey in under-18 divisions. Abuse leading to these off-ice investigations was more often based on their victims’ race.
While the Ontario Hockey Federation again reported the highest number of incidents (139), in terms of incidents per capita, Hockey P.E.I. led the 13 member organizations by a wide margin with a rate of 0.38 per cent (21 incidents among 5,570 players), a rate more than twice as high as the next organization, Hockey Manitoba.
For comparison, across the country, among Hockey Canada’s 519,755 registered players, there were 415 reported allegations, for an overall per capita rate of 0.08 per cent.
Hockey P.E.I. made national headlines for racial incidents twice in two months last season.
At a Charlottetown tournament in November 2021, Mark Connors, a Black 16-year-old goalie for the Halifax Hawks under-18 AA hockey team, said teenagers in the stands repeatedly hurled racial slurs at him, and, at the team’s hotel, he was told hockey was a white man’s sport.
Later, after investigation, five players were given 25-game suspensions by Hockey P.E.I. in connection with that incident.
In December 2021, Keegan Mitchell, playing Junior B hockey for the Sherwood Metros, got a two-game suspension for slashing an opponent in retaliation for an anti-Asian comment directed at Mitchell’s teammate.
When Mitchell later criticized Hockey P.E.I.’s response to the incident on social media, saying the opponent — who received a two-game suspension for the comment — deserved a stiffer penalty, Hockey P.E.I. suspended Mitchell indefinitely.
After the story became public, Hockey P.E.I. officials admitted they mishandled the situation and rescinded Mitchell’s suspension.
Hockey P.E.I. officials did not respond to requests for an interview on the Hockey Canada report.
If there is to be progress borne of this type of report, it may be a while coming, said Baker.
He noted when hockey cracked down on hitting from behind, the reported number of penalties for doing so soared for the first few years before starting to decrease over the next few years.
“I see this as being the same kind of a scenario,” he said. “It’s a change in mindset and it’s a change in culture and it’s a change in attitude, but it’s going to get to the point where players will understand that that language is not acceptable anymore in any way, shape or form in any part of our game or even outside the game. And it’s just going to stop.
“And if it doesn’t, then we’ve got to look at better ways of doing this.”
Hockey Canada said this report is the first step in a plan, with progressively more wide-ranging data collection to come.
“Members have tracked and reported all incidents of verbal taunts, insults or intimidation based on discriminatory grounds which occurred during the 2021-22 season,” it said in the report. “As this is the first year of reporting, it does not present a comprehensive representation of discrimination in hockey, nor does it report on other incidents of maltreatment, harassment or abuse, such as sexual violence.”
Hockey Canada proposes to add that data to future reports beginning with the 2023-24 season.
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