Alberta minor hockey scores high on discrimination violations: report

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Alberta minor hockey players were among those most frequently penalized for uttering discriminatory slurs or being accused of such offensive conduct, a Hockey Canada report claims.

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The national agency’s first tracking report on hockey discrimination recorded 927 incidents across the country in the 2021-22 season that were penalized by on-ice officials or other allegations of verbal abuse.

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Hockey Alberta was tied for third in Canada for sanctioned incidents: 91 for a per capita offense rate of 0.13 for offenses involving intimidation, name calling or taunting based on discrimination, the report states.

Another 104 reports of such acts not witnessed by officials were surpassed by the Ontario Hockey Federation, which recorded 139 incidents.

“The collection and reporting of data related to Rule 11.4 – Discrimination is an important first step in improving Hockey Canada’s ability to identify and address mistreatment in and around the sport of hockey,” the report states.

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“As a first step, the data presented will serve as an important benchmark in Hockey Canada’s ongoing action plan to address systemic issues and end toxic behavior in the sport.”

Hockey Alberta moves to end abuse

Insults directed at sexual orientation or gender identity were the most common in 61 percent of sanctioned incidents, followed by ethnicity at 18 percent and disability at 11 percent.

Last September, Hockey Alberta announced that it was creating a volunteer board to address allegations of mistreatment and was hiring an official and four investigators for the 2022-23 season.

The approach aims to ensure the new process for addressing such issues will be more transparent and consistent than in the past, the organization said.

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A symbol of respect is displayed on a hockey jersey after Bantam 2C action at Max Bell Center on Saturday, January 18, 2014.
A symbol of respect is displayed on a hockey jersey after Bantam 2C action at Max Bell Center on Saturday, January 18, 2014. Archive Jim Wells/Postmedia

The agency said it recorded more than 200 incidents or allegations of mistreatment during the 2021-22 season that led to 104 suspensions, all related to male players.

Of those suspensions, 55 percent focused on sexual orientation or gender identity slurs.

“Frankly, that’s 200 (incidents) too many,” Hockey Alberta minor hockey manager Bryden Burrell said on a podcast last month.

“We were able to find out if there were hot spots in the province.”

Those violations, he said, were most frequent among the under-15 and under-18 age groups.

With 34 suspensions and complaints, north-central Alberta was the highest, followed by Calgary with 33.

“From that data, we’ll see what changes need to be made over the next few years to make sure it gets removed from the game,” Burrell said.

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Hockey Canada noted that because the report was a first, there could be some inconsistencies in rule enforcement and data collection across provinces.

That could have skewed Alberta’s numbers toward the higher end, said Kevin Kobelka, chief executive officer of Hockey Calgary.

Hockey Calgary says it is concerned about the incidents

Even so, abusive behavior remains a concern. “We are still seeing incidents occur. . . we like to see these lower numbers, for sure, and we need to look at those numbers to continue working to make changes,” Kobelka said.

He said that for the past five years, Hockey Calgary has held leadership workshops for coaches and players that have involved keynote speakers, including prominent former NHL player and anti-abuse advocate Sheldon Kennedy.

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Ultimately, Kobelka said, education should be prioritized over disciplinary actions like suspensions.

Hockey Canada has come under fire for how it has handled allegations of sexual abuse directed at players.

A woman has accused several Canadian Hockey League players, including members of the 2018 junior world championship team, of sexual abuse, drawing widespread criticism of how Hockey Canada handled those allegations. It later came to light that the national organization had set up a fund from player fees that was used in part to address allegations of abuse.

The controversy led last October to the resignation of the entire board of directors of the national organization.

— With archives of Dylan Short

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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